Nebraska Catholics dedicated to cause of religious freedom

A banner outside of St Thomas More Catholic Church in Omaha NE Courtesy Archdiocese of Omaha 2 CNA US Catholic News 10 25 12 A banner outside of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Omaha, Nebraska.

A group of Nebraska Catholics has created and donated banners for 147 Catholic churches that bear messages about defending religious liberty, the unborn, and marriage between a man and a woman.

"They are outstanding banners," Fr. Ryan Lewis, pastor of Omaha's St. Thomas More Parish, told CNA Oct. 26. "I thought the message was incredible. The people in my parish are all fired up about concerns about attacks on religious liberty as it relates to the current administration and the HHS mandate."

One of the banners reads: "Religious Liberty: Our Most Cherished Freedom." The 4-by-12 foot banner also bears the website address of the Archdiocese of Omaha, though the archdiocese is not a financial backer of the project.

The Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that most employers with over 50 employees provide no co-pay insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs. Only some religious employers are exempt under certain narrow conditions.

Many Catholic health care systems, colleges, and charities do not qualify for the exemption, despite Catholic objections to providing the coverage. Violators pay heavy fines, prompting opponents to object that the mandate punishes Catholic employers who want to follow their consciences.

Fr. Lewis' parish was the first to display the banners.

He said the members of his "very diverse, working-class parish" in a historically Democratic part of town are "very, very excited" about the banners.

In his view, a message distilled down to religious liberty makes Catholics rise above any partisan considerations.

"They're saying 'hey this is something we can all get behind. The Catholic Church is being attacked, our religious liberties are in danger, and we need to respond,'" he said.

Knights of Columbus volunteers from 100 councils across the Archdiocese of Omaha will be erecting banners this weekend. Another smaller banner reads "Protect the Unborn, Defend Marriage, Safeguard Liberty."

Jim Carroll, executive director of Omaha's Spirit Catholic Radio, helped create the banners as part of an ad hoc group called the Faithful Citizens Coalition.

He said the project idea originated out of reflection on the U.S. bishops' "Faithful Citizenship" document and its discussion of "intrinsic evils" in political life. The project expanded from his station to the members of the Catholic businessmen's group Legatus, participants in the men's program That Man Is You and members of the Knights of Columbus.

Project organizers noticed the "very large" religious freedom rallies in Lincoln and Omaha this year and felt some issues were "ignored by the mainstream media," Carroll told CNA.

"People are concerned, with this election coming up, that religious liberty is being eroded," he said. "A lot of what we call intrinsic evils are just being accepted. They're not really a point of discussion."

Carroll said the project is not intended to be partisan and the banners could be up around the year.

"We just want people to know what the Catholic Church stands for, and that we feel our religious liberties are being assaulted," he said.

Fr. Lewis said there have not yet been any complaints about the banners.

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"We're talking about issues that have to do with our Catholic faith, not delving into partisan politics," he said.

"The signs talk about cherishing and safeguarding religious liberty, defending marriage and protecting the unborn. That's Catholic dogma, not partisan politics."

The Faithful Citizens Coalition has produced 2,500 religious liberty yard signs for Catholics and others to place in their yard. It has also funded a full-page ad in today's Sunday edition of the Omaha World-Herald which echoes the themes of the banner and includes a letter Archbishop George Lucas will send to the 230,000 Catholics of the Omaha archdiocese this weekend.

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