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Atlanta Archbishop to fight federal birth control mandate

11:19 AM, Jan 31, 2012   |    comments
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Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory calls the new health insurance mandate "a grave moral concern."

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory said he's gravely concerned about the new federal rule requiring faith-based employers to include birth control in their health care plans.

"This is a violation of the First Amendment rights of Catholics, because we're being forced to participate in activity that's in violation of our consciences," Archbishop Gregory said in an interview with 11Alive's Jennifer Leslie.

The new regulation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was issued on January 20.

It requires nearly all employers to provide health insurance policies that cover sterilization services, the "morning after" pill and contraceptives. There is no exception for faith-based employers, but churches are exempt.

The rule will affect more than 5,000 people in metro Atlanta who work for Catholic hospitals, schools, Catholic charities and the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

"The only latitude was that you have one year to figure out how you can violate your consciences," Archbishop Gregory said. "The concerns we take issue with are those that force policies to include those drugs and procedures that we feel, as Catholics in conscience by church teaching, are contrary to what we believe to be morally acceptable."

Archbishop Gregory sent a letter to all Parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta over the weekend calling the new rule "a direct attack on our religious freedom." The letter was read aloud during masses.

Archbishop Gregory said he wasn't surprised by the decision.

"I was disappointed because all along the administration knew of our concern in this area," Archbishop Gregory said. "Never before has the United States forced people to violate their consciences or religious principles. It's very important and very serious."

He said Catholic leaders will ask the administration to reconsider the new rule.

If that doesn't work, he said they'll go to Congress or pursue the matter in court.

"The Church is going to fight this regulation with all the available resources we have," he said. "We have to."

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