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Catholics Reject Bishops’ Attempts to Redefine Religious Freedom

June 14, 2012

As Bishop Lori and his colleagues discussed alleged threats to religious freedom at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, Catholics in the US shrugged and went about their daily business of putting food on the table and keeping their families healthy and happy,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “The bishops just don’t get it.

“Catholics throughout the country have said that they do not appreciate the bishops’ attempts to influence public policy in this manner. The bishops’ warm-up events last week and in May were poorly attended, even by the low standards that the bishops set themselves.

“The bishops’ discussion of religious freedom in Atlanta was a travesty, consisting of patting themselves on the back about their campaign to have the right to impose their beliefs on the entire American population. During the meeting, participants also made false assertions—which went unchallenged—about the Affordable Care Act.

“The discussion closed with a clear sign from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, revealing just how much interest the bishops have in listening to dissenting voices, even those within their own ranks. He solicited support from the bishops for their campaign on religious freedom and pointedly called for the one bishop who publicly questioned the initiative, Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, to second his motion. As the bishops began to applaud, Dolan failed to even ask if anybody dissented.

“Many, many millions of Catholics outside the room would have loved to have had the opportunity to tell the bishops what they think of this sideshow,” said O’Brien. “But the bishops aren’t listening; they just don’t get it.

“Ironically, there were laments from the bishops and their advisers that the voices of the laity aren’t being heard, and a recognition that more and more people believe that the religious persecution meme is merely a political ploy by the bishops’ conference. As the bishops settled down to their breakfast this morning and read the local paper, they got their wish: the voices of the Catholic laity could not be clearer.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the text of a letter that has been signed by thousands of Catholics around the country under the headline, ‘We the Catholic People.’

The open letter, an initiative supported by Catholics for Choice andWe the Catholic PEople admore than a dozen other progressive Catholic organizations, is a direct call for policymakers to listen to Catholics before they make pronouncements on family planning. The letter notes that the bishops are entitled to their viewpoint, “just as [Catholics] are to ours. Unfortunately, the bishops attempt to portray their views as representative of ours in public discourse. The bishops’ insistence on eliminating access to contraception does not reflect our view or the views of many of the 68 million Catholics in the United States. We have spoken with a near-unanimous voice: we believe that the use of contraception is a moral decision that should be made by individuals in accordance with their conscience.”

With the tagline, “If you want to know what Catholics think about contraception, ask us—not the bishops,” the open letter gathered almost 30,000 signatures in less than a week, with thousands more individuals signing on at

The letter concludes: “We stand together to state loudly and clearly to all that Catholic people diverge from the bishops on many issues. They do not speak for us each and every time they lobby elected officials or attempt to influence public policy. Our voices as Catholic people are an important component of policy debates and discussion and should be afforded the same respect.”

People may sign onto the letter here.