March 21st, 2012
10:45 AM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – A Washington advocacy group training in-the-trenches religious leaders to speak out on hot-button issues like abortion is nothing new.
But a liberal beltway group training left-leaning clergy to speak out for abortion rights is.
“Religion does support a woman’s personal decision-making about whether she is ready to become a parent,” said Sally Steenland, director of the Faith Initiative at the Center for American Progress, a progressive group that launched its Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute on Tuesday.
“We felt that the harsh anti-choice rhetoric dominating the public debate stigmatized women making these important decisions and claimed a monopoly on God, morality, and family values,” Steenland said in an e-mail message.
The Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute “will provide new and seasoned leaders with the resources they need to be effective faith advocates for women’s reproductive health,” according to a Center for American Progress press release.
For four decades, opposition to abortion rights has been the core issue for the Christian right, drawing countless evangelicals and Catholics into the political fold. In recent years, Democrats and liberal activists have worked to reclaim part of the religion and values conversation.
“Too often conventional wisdom pits religion against reproductive rights,” Steenland said. “But for most women there is no conflict between their faith and their commitment to reproductive freedom.”
Steenland said that the Center for American Progress has been working toward the launch of the institute for two years but that the controversy over the White House’s contraception mandate for employees, including those at religious institutions, made the new program especially timely.
Some religious leaders, most vocally the Catholic Church, have alleged that requiring religious institutions to offer free contraception coverage through insurance companies violates those institutions’ religious liberty.
“Attacks on women’s health have been especially strong in the past several months – sometimes disguised as a religious liberty issue – which makes the Leadership Institute more important than ever,” Steenland said.
The Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute is hosting an initial training session over two days this week and has scheduled another one for September.
This year, the institute will train 20 faith leaders from across the country, including clergy, activists and staff from mainline denominations.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.