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Minnesota gears up for November marriage vote

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Catholics -- numbering around 1.1 million -- make up the largest single religious denomination in Minnesota, and they are gearing up for November when voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman.

Currently, Minnesota law only permits marriage between one woman and one man. However, worry over potential legal challenges to that law compelled the legislature to propose a constitutional amendment.

Who's funding the Catholic bishops' religious freedom campaign?

ATLANTA -- On Thursday, Catholics across the country will amplify what is an already loud outcry from the hierarchy over the federal government's so-called contraception mandate.

With rallies, marches, lectures and special publications, the U.S. Catholic Bishop's Fortnight for Freedom campaign will seek to galvanize Catholic opposition to President Barack Obama's proposed mandate to require employers -- including religious institutions -- to provide free contraception insurance coverage to employees.

But while Catholic leaders frame the events as a fight for religious liberty, critics see signs of political partisanship and electioneering. Questions over the financing of the bishops' campaign have caused those suspicions to multiply.

"The activities around the Fortnight for Freedom cost money," said Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington. "What groups are paying for this, and what's the accountability for that money?"

Nuns on the Bus kicks off nationwide tour in Iowa

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AMES, Iowa -- Republican and Catholic Congressman Steve King of Iowa should have known better than to disappoint a nun, especially a group of them who have come clean across the United States just to see him.

But that is exactly what he did Monday, leaving a small typed note taped on the door of his newly opened Ames office that said he was meeting with voters across his newly redrawn Iowa 4th Congressional District.

Is it time for religious groups to lose their tax exemption?

How much money does the U.S. government forgo by not taxing religious institutions? According to a University of Tampa professor, perhaps as much as $71 billion a year.

Ryan Cragun, an assistant professor of sociology, and two students examined U.S. tax laws to estimate the total cost of tax exemptions for religious institutions -- on property, donations, business enterprises, capital gains and "parsonage allowances," which permit clergy to deduct housing costs.

Archbishop: 'Fortnight' about religious freedom, not politics

ATLANTA -- Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore acknowledged Wednesday that the U.S. bishops' "fortnight for freedom" campaign has come under heavy criticism in the secular media, in the blogosphere and by some Catholics as being a partisan political effort.

But the two-week period is meant to be free of politics and will emphasize church teaching on religious freedom, the chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom said in Atlanta.

Catholics around the country rally for religious freedom

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WASHINGTON -- Catholics in dioceses across the country made their stand for religious freedom in a series of rallies Friday.

Organized by the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, based in Michigan, the rallies took place on the same day in an estimated 145 cities and all together drew about 63,000 participants.

Archbishop: Religious liberty campaign not meant to 'throw' election

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Catholic church's challenges to the federal government's contraceptive mandate under the health care law is not an attempt to "throw" the presidential election in favor of one candidate or against another, said the chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom.

California Senate passes ban on therapy to change sexual orientation

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The state Senate has passed a bill banning psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health practitioners from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation of any patient/client under 18 regardless of the teen's willingness to undergo that therapy or the willingness of a parent, guardian or other person to authorize such efforts.

The bill now moves to the Assembly, which has until Aug. 31 to send the bill to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Supporters of the bill say so-called reparative or conversion therapy is harmful to minors and that the ban provides needed protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

The ban does not extend to psychotherapies that aim to provide acceptance, support and understanding of clients who are attracted to a person of the same sex or who are exploring sexual identity as long as there is no effort to change orientation or reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions.

Editorial: Bishops overreach in HHS conflict

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Early this year, NCR called out the Obama administration for overstepping a boundary by issuing through the department of Health and Human Services a mandate that required insurance coverage for contraceptives, with a too narrow exemption for religious institutions. We took this stance based on the principle that government should not define what a religious institution is and what religious ministry is.

The principle we sought to defend was clear: “Our faith is not confined to a building. Aiding the poor and marginalized, educating people, taking care of the sick are not add-ons to our religious convictions. They are core religious activities; they are who we are as Catholics.”

Our stance was not popular with a good number of NCR readers because many construed defense of the principle to mean agreement with another issue to which it had become inextricably linked -- contraception.

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April 11-24, 2014

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