New organization mobilizes lay Catholics for public square

Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association CNA US Catholic News 5 23 12 Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association.

As concerns over threats to religious liberty continue to mount, a growing Catholic organization aims to help lay men and women take action to protect conscience rights and religious freedom.

Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser for the newly launched Catholic Association, said the group serves as both “a voice for Catholics in the public square” and a way to educate Catholics on important issues.

Ferguson told CNA on May 23 that the association is currently focused on the defense of conscience rights, which she believes are currently facing serious threats in America.

Chief among those threats is a federal mandate issued by the Obama administration to force employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

The mandate has been widely criticized by individuals and groups across the U.S., including bishops from every diocese in the country, who warned that it threatens religious freedom and could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable organizations to shut down.

Ferguson cautioned that the mandate will affect all Americans because the Church is the biggest non-government provider of education, health care and social services.

In discussing the mandate, the U.S. bishops “have repeatedly called on lay Catholics to step up to the plate” and work to defend freedom of conscience, she said.

The Catholic Association is trying to respond to bishops’ call by helping the lay faithful to speak out and act in support of religious liberty.

The organization is currently “preparing a campaign” to support the “Fortnight for Freedom” called for by the U.S. bishops from June 21 to July 4 in response to the current threats to religious liberty.

Dioceses across the country will launch initiatives aimed at prayer, education and public action for religious freedom during the fortnight.

Ferguson explained that The Catholic Association will be reaching out through television and internet efforts, as well as a social media campaign, to mobilize Catholics throughout the two-week period.

The campaign will ask the faithful to perform one simple act per day. These acts may include writing to their Congressional representative, sharing the importance of the cause with a friend or praying to St. Thomas More, the patron of religious freedom.

“This is not a conservative or a liberal organization, said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow for the association.

She explained that the organization is about reaching Catholics “in all walks of life,” encouraging “grassroots action” and emphasizing the “increasing need” for the lay faithful to take up their rightful place with the clergy in defending the most basic American freedoms.

McGuire pointed to a recent survey by D.C.-based public opinion firm QEV Analytics, which found that about half of Church-attending Catholics recall hearing a statement at Mass about the contraception mandate.

The majority of these people agreed with the bishops’ objections to the mandate and its coercion of religious organizations and individuals, she said.

Recent polls show President Barack Obama losing support among Catholics, a voting group that he won in the 2008 election.

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McGuire sees this as a sign that Catholics are realizing that his policies threaten their fundamental rights.

As people continue to see the danger of the mentality behind the mandate, they will continue “rejecting this attack on religious freedom,” she said.

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