If the bishops of the United States had any question whether Catholics could come together in common cause, the answer came quickly and forcefully when the Obama administration attempted to impose a definition of religious organization that was far more restrictive than the one normally used for tax and other legal purposes.
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.
In a series of forceful public statements, speeches and congressional testimony, the U.S. bishops in mid-February rejected outright a compromise offered by President Barack Obama on a controversial federal mandate requiring coverage of contraceptive services in health care plans.
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.
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.
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.
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."
WASHINGTON -- For the fourth year in a row, President Barack Obama is proposing lower tax deductions for the wealthy on donations to churches and other nonprofit organizations. And for the fourth year in a row, nonprofit groups say the change would lead to a dramatic drop in charitable giving.
The reduction, included in Obama's 2013 budget proposal, rankled the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
"We were hoping this would not come up again this year. We asked that they not renew it, but unfortunately the request was not taken," said Nathan Diament, the group's Washington director. "It's a real concern."
Under the Obama proposal, the tax break for charitable donations would fall from 35 percent to 28 percent for the top 2 percent of taxpayers, those earning more than $250,000.
In real terms, that would mean a wealthy taxpayer who donates $10,000 to a charity would be able to only claim a $2,800 deduction on his taxes, rather than the current $3,500.
TRENTON, N.J. -- Even as Gov. Chris Christie's threat of a "swift" veto looms, gay rights activists are celebrating after the state Assembly voted Thursday on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey.
With supporters imploring lawmakers to make history, the lower house passed the bill after hours of debate on a day that began with protests and prayer vigils under gloomy skies outside the Statehouse.
"Without question, this is a historic day in the state of New Jersey," said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who, along with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a fellow Democrat, made the measure a top priority.
The Senate, which failed to pass a gay marriage bill two years ago, easily approved it Monday. The governor's office would not say when Christie would respond.
Thursday's 42-33 tally did not include a single Republican vote, and two Democrats voted no.
Gay rights activists were joyous after the vote, vowing they'd fight to overturn Christie's expected veto -- and saying it bolsters a gay marriage court challenge in its early stages.
WASHINGTON -- The secretary-treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO said lawmakers in his home state last year conducted "the most immoral legislative session I have ever witnessed," especially their actions on education funding and Medicaid.
John Patrick, a Catholic, also criticized lawmakers for trying to pass a measure that he said would have made it illegal for labor officials to use union dues to "advocate for working families."
But he reserved his greatest scorn for budget cuts.
"In 2011, the Texas Legislature took $4 billion out of public schools. Instead of investing in our future, Texas lawmakers divested from the future," he said. "Instead of helping the poorest among us, Texas lawmakers wrote billions of dollars in IOUs for Medicaid."
The cuts were part of a two-year budget the Republican-controlled Legislature passed last May. School districts had to lay off about 32,000 school employees, including 12,000 teachers. Democratic lawmakers and the Texas State Teachers Association have asked the Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session to resolve the crisis.