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Politics

Senate rejects change to contraception rule

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The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican-led bid to insert a broad religious exemption into a federal mandate that requires most employers and health insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage.

The largely party-line vote was 51-48 in favor of tabling an amendment that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., had offered to a federal transportation bill.

Catholic voter guide differs from two Catholic candidates

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A group of Democratic-leaning Catholics on Wednesday released a 2012 voter guide that seeks to expand the concept of "pro-life issues" beyond abortion to also include war, euthanasia and poverty.

The nine-page guide from the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good -- one of the first to be released for the 2012 elections -- highlights economic issues as top concerns Catholics should weigh as they consider their vote.

The guide is markedly different from others circulated by conservative Catholic groups, which stress opposition to abortion rights as a non-negotiable stance for American Catholics.

Most notably, the new guide stands in stark contrast to the positions of the two Catholic presidential candidates, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, whose culture war rhetoric has dominated political discourse in recent weeks.

While the authors said they took their cues from the U.S. bishops' own voting priorities, the new guide does not mention gay marriage, which the Catholic bishops increasingly regard as a threat on par with legalized abortion.

Bishop tells committee about 'absurd' effects of contraceptive mandate

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty went before Congress again Tuesday to urge rescission of the Department of Health and Human Services' contraceptive mandate or passage of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.

Bishop William E. Lori's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee focused on some of the "absurd and surreal consequences" of the mandate and the "accommodation" announced Feb. 10 by President Barack Obama, which the bishop called "a legally unenforceable promise to alter the way the mandate would still apply to those who are still not exempt from it."

"'Without change' suddenly means 'with change,'" he said. "'Choice' suddenly means 'force.'"

The bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., who addressed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Feb. 16 on a similar topic, was joined at the hearing by a Muslim-American attorney, the director of the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity and a physician who chaired the Institute of Medicine's Committee on Preventive Services for Women.

Franklin Graham apologizes for questioning Obama's faith

WASHINGTON -- Evangelist Franklin Graham apologized Tuesday (Feb. 28) to President Obama for questioning his Christian faith and said religion has "nothing to do" with Graham's decision not to support Obama's re-election.

Graham's apology came after a group of prominent black religious leaders criticized the evangelist for saying he did not know whether Obama is a Christian and suggesting that Islamic law considers him to be a Muslim.

Graham, president of the relief organization Samaritan's Purse and the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, said he now accepts Obama's declarations that he is a Christian.

"I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama," he said in a statement.

"I apologize to him and to any I have offended for not better articulating my reason for not supporting him in this election -- for his faith has nothing to do with my consideration of him as a candidate."

Graham said he objects to Obama's policy stances on abortion and same-sex marriage, which Graham considers to be in "direct conflict" with Scripture.

A cardinal's role in the end of a state's ban on contraception

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Up until the middle of 1966, it was illegal to buy a condom in Massachusetts.

That year, the state became the last in the country to overturn a ban on the sale of contraceptives. And when it finally did, it was because of the support of a key Catholic leader, Boston’s powerful archbishop, Cardinal Richard Cushing.

Some see bishops in danger of overplaying their hand

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ANALYSIS

In the three weeks between President Barack Obama’s Jan. 20 announcement that there would be no expansion of the conscience exemptions regarding Department of Health and Human Services mandates for contraceptives and his Feb. 10 announcement of an “accommodation” that effectively does expand those exemptions, the U.S. bishops enjoyed a rare moment of public support from many progressive Catholics.

Groups like the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK and the Catholic Health Association, as well as prominent liberal Catholics like E.J. Dionne and Chris Matthews, joined the bishops in calling for broader exemptions for Catholic colleges, charities and hospitals.

When the president announced his accommodation, it was clearly a win for the bishops. The president had set a one-year timetable to address religious concerns, but the firestorm he had ignited required him to address the issue more quickly than planned.

Instead of taking a victory lap, though, the bishops declared themselves unsatisfied with the accommodation and shifted the goalposts of the debate.

Experts challenge Santorum's remarks linking college to faith loss

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WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum's claim that U.S. colleges drive young Christians out of church is facing scrutiny from Protestant and Catholic experts.

Santorum told talk show host Glenn Beck on Thursday (Feb. 23) that "62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it." He also has called President Obama a "snob" for wanting more Americans to attend college.

"There is no statistical difference in the dropout rate among those who attended college and those that did not attend college," said Thom Rainer, president of the Southern Baptists' LifeWay Christian Resources research firm. "Going to college doesn't make you a religious dropout."

A 2007 LifeWay survey did find seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23.
The real causes: lack of "a robust faith," strongly committed parents and an essential church connection, Rainer said.

Referendum could dispute Maryland's new same-sex marriage law

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Maryland effectively became the eighth U.S. state to approve same-sex marriage Feb. 23, when the state Senate approved the measure 25-22.

The House of Delegates approved the bill the previous week. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat and Catholic, who previously announced his intention to sign the bill into law, is slated to do so Thursday.

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