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Amid spin and misunderstanding, Fortnight for Freedom hits the Southern Tier

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The U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom focuses on the religious freedom issues raised by the Obama administration’s HHS mandate. This evening, the Syracuse Diocese brings the Fortnight to Binghamton. At 7:00 p.m., St. Patrick’s Parish Hall will be the site of a discussion on religious freedom entitled “Are Catholics Really Being Persecuted?” Two more events will follow later in the week: an hour of prayer and petition at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish on Friday June 29; and a showing of the movie “Karol: A Man Who Became Pope” at Seton Catholic Central High School on Saturday, June 30. (The Rochester Diocese, which includes the western counties of New York’s Southern Tier, is centralizing its activities at its Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua, N.Y. No local events are scheduled.)

The events have been planned, the schedule set. What remains to be seen is whether the people in the pews will show up.

Despite media spin, it ain’t about the pill
With a dogged, unrelenting single-mindedness, the media is billing the HHS mandate controversy as a classic David (the women of America) and Goliath (the men in the pointed hats) contest over control of the Promised Land (contraception). Not so, says columnist Kathleen Parker. “The debate is about freedom of conscience,” Parker says, “It ain’t about the Pill…. We have a long tradition in this country of working around religious differences so that people are not forced to violate their faith to satisfy a secular mandate. This is the essence of the debate.” Bingo. Yet so effective has the media’s misdirection been that many, even among the Catholic faithful, are choosing up sides depending upon where they stand on contraception, not freedom of conscience.

Case in point
YNN’s coverage of Bishop Cunningham’s Mass opening the Fortnight in the Syracuse Diocese last Thursday is a good example of spin and its effect. After a brief account of the Mass, YNN pans to the protesters outside for the rest of the article, reporting that one unnamed participant observed, “The vast majority of the Catholics in the United States no longer support the church stand on birth control.”

What do Catholics in the United States support? Perhaps the larger question is whether ‘conscience’ means anything at all in the prevailing social value system. Response to Fortnight of Freedom, here and around the country, may go a long way toward answering that question.

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