Senate Blocks Attempt to Protect Religious Freedom

Narrow Defeat for Blunt Amendment

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 1, 2012 ( The U.S. Senate voted by a narrow 51-48 margin to block the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S. 1467), sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and 37 other senators.

The proposed measure would have given employers and insurers the possibility to opt out of paying for contraceptives and sterilizations

“The need to defend citizens’ rights of conscience is the most critical issue before our country right now,” said Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bishop Lori chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). 

“We will continue our strong defense of conscience rights through all available legal means. Religious freedom is at the heart of democracy and rooted in the dignity of every human person,” he said in a press release by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops after the vote. 

“We will not rest until the protection of conscience rights is restored and the First Amendment is returned to its place of respect in the Bill of Rights,” he declared.

The 51 to 48 vote to table the amendment was mostly along party lines, but three Democrats — Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) — supported it, and Republican Olympia Snowe (Maine) opposed it.

A number of senators who declare themselves to be Catholic voted against the amendment. Matt Smith, president of Catholic Advocate, put the tally at thirteen.

“It is our duty as laity to hold those who did not support our values accountable and vote our conscience when the time comes,” he declared.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York referred to divisions among Catholics on the issue in a post on his blog the same day as the Senate vote.

The changes announced on February 10 by President Obama were: “…not even a nod to the deeper concerns about trespassing upon religious freedom, or of modifying the HHS’ attempt to define the how and who of our ministry through the suffocating mandates,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, “Regrettably, the unity of the Catholic community has been tempered a bit by those who think the President has listened to us and now we can quit worrying,” Cardinal Dolan explained.

The Catholic bishops are going to continue in their efforts to rescind or modify the new regulation, he stated. “(W)e have to be realistic and prepare for tough times,” he added.

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Full text of Cardinal Dolan’s blog:

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