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A new lobbying group being created by the Roman Catholic Church appears to have made the Obama administration its prime target.
In a letter last Thursday explaining the creation of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops cited recent decisions by the administration favoring gay and abortion rights as proof that religious freedom is under attack "increasingly and in unprecedented ways."
"Never before have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider. If we do not act now, the consequence will be grave," wrote the group's president, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.
The group of bishops he leads has been politically active in the past. They nearly derailed President Barack Obama's health care plan by raising concerns that abortions would be federally subsidized. But the new ad hoc committee is set to become a permanent institution for advocacy work — a first for the Catholic bishops — and Dolan said it marks "a new moment in the history of our conference."
After the bishops' efforts against the health care law in 2009, Dolan's selection as president last fall was seen as a sign that the group planned to continue its lobbying on social issues. The creation of a new committee dedicated to advocacy has some critics concerned that it will serve as a platform to undermine the rights of gays and lesbians.
Dolan has tapped Connecticut Bishop William Lori to run the operation and plans to hire a constitutional lawyer and a policy expert to help with lobbying efforts. The committee will also help coordinate efforts among religious groups and more than 70 million Christians that the organization considers its constituents.
The goal is to "form a united and forceful front in defense of religious freedom in our nation," Dolan explained in his letter, highlighting six recent threats to religious liberty.
Five of those centered on actions by federal agencies under the Obama administration. In the absence of Congressional action on gay and abortion rights, the Justice, Health and Human Services and State departments have taken steps to appease Democratic constituencies, religious conservatives believe.
In February, Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that allowed states to ignore same-sex partnerships legally recognized in other states. In August, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that insurers would soon be required to cover women's preventive reproductive services such as birth control and voluntary sterilization.