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Effort to Overturn Contraceptive Mandate Shifts Focus to Bishops’ Advocacy

“One of the few options now available to repeal the flaw [in the law] is going to be the ballot box,” said Brian Burch, president of Catholic Vote. A Catholic Vote Web video featuring stirring music and patriotic scenes casts the mandate as a violation of civil and religious rights and warns: “Mr. President, You’ve Awakened a Sleeping Giant.”

Burch said Catholic Vote will be active in the presidential and Senate elections and use sophisticated, new microtargeting tools to reach Catholics with Internet ads. Conscience Cause also is doing Internet advertising, Varley said, and is considering voter guides and rallies in key Congressional districts.

The highly politicized campaign has drawn fire from progressive Catholics, watchdog groups and even some bishops. Stockton, Calif., Bishop Stephen E. Blaire told a Catholic newspaper in May that “different groups … are trying to co-opt this and make it into a political issue.”

John Gehring, Catholic program director at the progressive group Faith in Public Life, drew a lengthy rebuttal from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when he challenged the campaign in a memo to reporters.

“It’s kind of a stretch to make the case that this is simply an educational effort, when some bishops seem happy to align with Republican politicians in a national mobilizing campaign against President Obama just a few months before a national election in which Catholics will play a decisive role,” Gehring said in an interview.

In a statement released to the media last month, Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, pointed to tax rules that bar charities from partisan politics: “The bishops have been far from even-handed in their political activities. At some point, it may raise questions about compliance with federal tax law, which forbids [charitable] tax-exempt organizations from favoring or opposing candidates for public office.”

The bishops counter that their “Fortnight for Freedom” is about prayer, not politics.

“It’s important to say the struggle we are engaging in here is not a partisan issue,” Baltimore Archbishop William Lori said last month in a conference call with the Catholic Press Association. “We didn’t choose the time. We didn’t choose the place.”

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