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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.

Court says pharmacists can't be forced to dispense morning-after pill

A federal court Wednesday struck down a Washington state rule that requires pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill even if it violates their religious beliefs.

Religious liberty advocates cheered the decision. They have decried the 2007 state regulation as a violation of pharmacists' First Amendment rights, which guarantee freedom of religion.

"Today's decision sends a very clear message: No individual can be forced out of her profession solely because of her religious beliefs," said Luke Goodrich, deputy national litigation director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The Becket Fund was co-counsel for two pharmacists who believe that life begins at the fertilization of a human egg, and can be destroyed by the pills.

Many advocates for women's health had applauded the state's Board of Pharmacy rule of as a way to guarantee greater access to the drugs within the short time frame -- between three and five days after intercourse -- when they are effective. When taken soon after unprotected sexual intercourse, the drugs (known as Plan B and ella) are between 75 to 90 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.

Both sides gear up for gay marriage fight in North Carolina

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- As the only Southern state without a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, North Carolina is the next battleground, with religious groups on both sides bracing for a high-stakes fight on May 8.

Against a recent string of gay-marriage victories in California, Washington state and Maryland, North Carolinians will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment May 8, the same day as the state Republican primary.

Same-sex marriage has been illegal in the Tar Heel State since 1996; Minnesota also has a marriage amendment planned for a vote in November.

"Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state," the proposed amendment reads.

"This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts."

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