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Catholics to take part in Fortnight for Freedom

| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Months after the federal act known as Obamacare was signed, and as the Supreme Court weighs two cases involving same-sex marriage, the Catholic Church continues to challenge what it perceives as threats to religious freedom.

The second annual national observance, “Fortnight for Freedom,” aims to educate participants about issues including government intervention in health care and a possible redefinition of marriage, said Greensburg Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt.

“I think religious freedom is part of the First Amendment,” Brandt said Monday.

Brandt will open the two-week, nationwide observance on June 21 with a 7:30 p.m. ecumenical prayer service in Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is sponsoring the campaign that the bishop said questions threats to the church's moral beliefs.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the separation of state and church.

“People have the freedom to believe what they like, but not to use government as a weapon against someone's conscience,” she said.

Gaylor takes issue with church postcard campaigns to Congress that seek to have a health care contraceptive mandate amended and called ongoing church court appeals against a potential redefinition of marriage “dehumanizing.”

“They should not be allowed to force their own dogma through our secular laws,” Gaylor said.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on a challenge to California's voter-approved Proposition 8, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and a case seeking to strike down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies married same-sex couples benefits generally available to married heterosexuals.

“Marriage is as old as humankind,” Brandt said, a “natural law institution,” that guarantees the continuation of life.

“It is not ours to redefine marriage. God has defined that ... in his own teaching,” the bishop said.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have protested a provision in the pending Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which would require most employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause a miscarriage.

“Why should taxpayers have to support people's needs (for those services)? Artificial contraception is not health care,” Brandt said. “We have to get the HHS legislation changed.”

Gaylor countered that “most Catholics are much more liberal than the church. Most are not good Catholics when it comes to birth control, and that's good.”

Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus of the Duquesne Law School, said although efforts such as Fortnight for Freedom may appear passive, they can have an impact on policy.

“Any kind of reasoned argument can change minds,” he said. “And the church ought to be participating in the public square because it has some important things to say and its voice needs to be heard.”

Brandt views the initiative as part of an ongoing battle to preserve the Catholic Church's traditions.

“Who would have ever thought in the United States that we would be fighting for religious freedom? This is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Sometimes it takes bravery to uphold your freedom,” Brandt said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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