By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – The Obama administration’s key Catholic ally on its controversial plan to require health insurers to provide free contraceptive coverage is dropping support for the plan, potentially complicating the president’s relations with Catholics in an election year.
The Catholic Health Association, which comprises 2,000 Catholic hospitals, health systems and related organizations, said Friday that although it had initially supported what the White House called a compromise on the contraception issue, it is now “deeply concerned” about the plan and says the White House “has not relieved our initial concerns.”
Many Catholic groups expressed opposition to the Obama administration’s proposal to require employers to provide free contraception coverage to their employees. Although the plan exempted churches, other religiously affiliated employers - including colleges and hospitals - were not exempt.
By Alan Duke, CNN
(CNN) - The University of Notre Dame and "a diverse group of plaintiffs" filed lawsuits Monday challenging the federal mandate that religious employers offer health insurance that includes coverage of contraceptives and birth control services, Notre Dame spokeswoman Shannon Chapla said.
The Notre Dame suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Northern Indiana, is one of a dozen filed Monday by 43 separate Catholic institutions in different federal courts around the United States, Chapla said.
The lawsuits are efforts to "vindicate the country's constitutional and traditional commitments to religious freedom and pluralism," Notre Dame law professor Richard W. Garnett said in a university statement.
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – In an anticipated and controversial address Friday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius delivered a speech that blended inspirational messages to graduates with a discussion of public policy's tough decisions, including health care and honoring religious freedom.
Her speech at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute awards ceremony had been considered controversial by conservative Catholic organizations that saw her appearance as the university validating her positions on abortion and contraception.
The speech did not mention the controversy directly, but Sebelius did address faith in public life in a section of the speech devoted to John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States.
"Kennedy was elected president on November 8, 1960," she said. "And more than 50 years later, that conversation, about the intersection of our nation's long tradition of religious freedom with policy decisions in the public square, continues."
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN)–The U.S. Catholic bishops who claim, increasingly incredibly, to speak on behalf of American Catholics hit a new low last week when they released a self-serving statement called “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” As this title intimates, the supposed subject is religious liberty, but the real matter at hand is contraception and (for those who have ears to hear) the rapidly eroding moral authority of U.S. priests and bishops.
On Easter Sunday, Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CBS that the controversial Health and Human Services contraception rule represents a “radical intrusion” of government into "the internal life of the Church.” On Thursday, 15 of his fellow Catholic clerics (all male) took another sloshy step into the muck and mire of the politics of fear.
In “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” there is talk of religious liberty as the “first freedom” and a tip of the cap to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. But first and foremost there is anxiety. “Our freedoms are threatened,” these clerics cry. “Religious liberty is under attack.”
But what freedoms are these clerics being denied? The freedom to say Mass? To pray the Rosary? No and no. The U.S. government is not forcing celibate priests to have sex, or to condone condoms. The freedom these clerics are being denied is the freedom to ignore the laws of the land in which they live.
Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
(CNN) - Civility is hard to find in American politics nowadays, but one Roman Catholic university is doing what it can to dial things back a bit.
On Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh blasted Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who testified before Congress in favor of contraceptive coverage in health plans, as a “slut” and a “prostitute.”
Friday, President John J. DeGioia of Georgetown University, in a public message called "On Civility and Public Discourse," praised Fluke for providing “a model of civil discourse.”
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Washington (CNN)–The battle over who should pay for contraceptives and how has been framed in the news media as Catholics versus the Obama White House.
When the administration announced religiously affiliated institutions would have a year to comply with a new policy that require them to pay for contraceptives through insurance plans, it was Catholic bishops who led the criticism, firing off angry letters to be read at Mass in parishes nationwide. That campaign appears to have worked, with the White House signaling it will announce a compromise on its rule on Friday.
But in pushing the White House to change the rule, Catholics were joined by a politically formidable religious group that's OK with contraception but increasingly sensitive about what they say is a government bent on secularizing the public square: evangelical Christians.
"I'm not a Catholic," California megachurch pastor Rick Warren wrote on his Twitter feed Tuesday, "but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against govt pressure."
(CNN) – I don’t know yet what I think of the Obama administration’s policy of requiring employers, including Catholic ones, to offer contraceptive services for free as preventive care. But I know this: It is crucial in this dispute to distinguish between the Catholic hierarchy and rank-and-file Catholics.
Catholic bishops have a clear position on contraception. Citing the encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), they contend that sex has a purpose, and that this purpose is procreation inside marriage. Therefore, any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, as is any “unnatural” means of birth control inside marriage. So while the so-called rhythm method is acceptable, condoms and IUDs and the pill are not.
But is this the Catholic position? It depends on what you mean by Catholic.
Washington (CNN) – Sen. Marco Rubio has introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012, bringing to the Senate the ever growing charge that President Barack Obama and his administration are violating the rights of religious Americans.
The bill looks to repeal health care reform mandates that “violates religious liberties and conscience rights of faith-based institutions,” Rubio said in a news release.
The main concern from religious organizations has been the Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to finalize plans that would require church-affiliated organizations to offer private health care that would include contraceptives.
“The Obama Administration’s obsession with forcing mandates on the American people has now reached a new low by violating the conscience rights and religious liberties of our people,” said Rubio, a Florida Republican.
Washington (CNN) – Catholics around the country got an earful on Sunday from the pulpit over a new health insurance policy by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that forces employers to cover contraception and abortion as part of preventative care regardless of religious beliefs. The use of abortion and contraceptives violates Catholic teachings.
In Green Bay, Wisconsin, Bishop David Ricken denounced the policy at Mass in St. Francis Xavier Cathedral on Sunday and received a standing ovation, CNN affiliate WLUK reported.
"If we pay for those services for people who work for us, we are in effect saying don't do it, but then giving the money to pay for it," said Ricken.
Editor's Note: Rick Warren is the founder and pastor at Saddleback Church and the author of The Purpose Driven Life.
By Rick Warren, Special to CNN
On June 5, 1981, my wife Kay was late into her second pregnancy, just weeks away from giving birth. Absorbed in caring for our 2-year-old and preparing for a newborn, the farthest thing on our minds was news that day of a cluster of men in Los Angeles with a mysterious, devastating disease.
But what began in Africa and was first observed in this small California group became an epidemic, then swelled to a pandemic - touching lives in every country on every continent
Though late to the fight, in 2003 Kay and I heard God calling us to care for those infected and affected, to raise our voices on their behalf, and to figure out practical ways for local churches to serve them.
Timeline: 30 years of AIDS moments
We traveled to Africa, ground zero for this pandemic, and were brokenhearted by the pain and thrilled by the compassion we observed.
Out of the bubble that is American life, we sat with dying men and women, held newly orphaned babies in our arms, and cried with shattered family members.
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.