Religious Freedom Tops U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Meeting in Atlanta

By Shelia M. Poole
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
June 12, 2012

Unless you're Catholic, you've probably never heard of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- until recently.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization, though, is perhaps the most vocal critic of a divisive federal policy that would require health care insurers to provide free contraceptive and preventive coverage, claiming that it violates religious liberty and is against the moral conscience.

The USCCB, which makes decisions on issues that affect U.S. Catholics, will bring that argument to Atlanta this week when it holds its Spring General Assembly Wednesday through Friday at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta hotel downtown. Churches and houses of worship are exempt under the Obama plan. And, although, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says religious- affiliated institutions such as schools and hospitals do not have to pay for or refer employees for any contraceptive coverage, the Catholic Church argues that since most affiliates are self-insured, they would still bear that responsibility, which goes v. against their beliefs.

"Frankly, as a Catholic, this is the first time in my life that I've felt this [religious] freedom is in jeopardy. "said Lorraine V. Murray. a parishioner at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Decatur and a religion columnist, whose free lance clients include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. .

Other issues to be discussed include additional threats to domestic and international religious freedom, an update on the church's efforts to prevent clergy sexual abuse, a presentation on the upcoming Year of Faith and the economy.

Part of the meeting will be available by live streaming and social media on the USCCB's Facebook and Twitter pages. Viewers can also go to the organization's website at

The meeting will not be without controversy.

A group of Atlantans plan to gather outside the hotel to protest the Vatican criticism of many members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents many of the nation's nuns, for having " radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

The organization is " very influential in certain ways," said Phillip Thompson, executive director of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University. "They're the teaching and administrative authority for the bishops, so they respond to a whole range of issues in the United States."

The USCCB and Atlanta church officials, estimate there are roughly 70 million Catholics in the United States and more than a million in the Atlanta Archdiocese.


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