FFRF counters anti-contraceptive bishops

‘Storming the bishops’ bastille!’

Zachary Moore in front of FFRF’s Fort Worth billboard. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation went into high gear against a June offensive by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to impose its anti-contraceptive dogma on civil law. FFRF countered the bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” June 21­–July 4 with its own energetic media campaign.

FFRF launched a historic TV ad campaign with a 30-second spot featuring one of America’s favorite former Catholics — actress Julia Sweeney, beloved by freethinkers for her play “Letting Go of God” and by the American public for her portrayal of “Androgynous Pat” on “Saturday Night Live.”

In the ad, Julia says:

“Hi, I’m Julia Sweeney, and I’m a cultural Catholic. I am no longer a believer and I even wrote a play about it called ‘Letting Go of God.’ But I wanted to let you know that right now Catholic bishops are framing their opposition to contraceptive coverage as a religious freedom issue. But the real threat to freedom is the bishops, who want to be free to force their dogma on people who don’t want it. Please join the Freedom From Religion Foundation and help keep church and state separate. (FFRF’s name, toll-free number and website are displayed throughout the ad.) See ad: ffrf.org

FFRF purchased two weeks of airtime, about 1,200 showings of the ad, on an impressive variety of national TV programs, mainly news-oriented, airing regionally to about 42 million viewers whose carriers included Dish, DirecTV, Cox, Comcast, Verizon and Viamedia. Shows included first-run and reruns of programs hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, “Mythbusters” and even Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report.”

Other networks included LOGO, Discovery, Science and WE (Women’s Entertainment). Taking its message to some who need to hear it most, FFRF even placed a limited number on Fox’s “O’Reilly Factor” and “Hannity.” A similar radio commercial recorded by Sweeney also played in June on “The Randi Rhodes Show.”

FFRF produced the TV ad in direct response to the Catholic bishops’ posturing as victims of religious persecution, while working to limit women employees’ access to contraception.

In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to expand preventive care to provide FDA-approved contraceptives without charging female employees a co-pay. The bishops claim their “religious liberty” is jeopardized by this guideline, even though they and all churches and denominations are explicitly exempted from providing this benefit to their own employees.

The bishops have orchestrated federal lawsuits against the Obama administration’s mandate involving 43 Catholic institutions, most of them dioceses. The suits target the administration’s compromise, which orders private insurance companies to pay for and provide the contraceptive benefit to employees of religiously affiliated hospitals, schools and other nonchurch organizations.

The Catholic Church is lobbying Congress to adopt a church-authored law to permit any employer to deny employee health care coverage if they cite a religious objection. For example, a Jehovah’s Witnesses employer could bar blood transfusion coverage for an employee, or a Southern Baptist could bar prescription contraception for an unmarried female employee.

“Most Americans are not Catholic, yet the Catholic Church wants our civil laws to bend to the will of one church,” noted FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The church is free to preach its irrational doctrine that contraception is a ‘sin’ to its own membership, the vast majority of whom disregard that teaching and use contraception. But no church has the right to demand that our government deny basic health care benefits because its dogma opposes such care.”

Patriotic billboards go up

As part of its “Counter the Bishops” campaign, FFRF placed three strategic billboards around the country saying “Quit the Church: Put Women’s Rights over Bishops’ Wrongs”:

• A red-white-and-blue 14×48-foot billboard went up at Interstate 70 and North Broadway in St. Louis, Mo., in mid-June for 4 weeks. Nearly 300,000 people drive by weekly. FFRF chose St. Louis for its “truth to power” message because the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities of St. Louis are parties to the suit over the mandate.

• FFRF also placed a patriotic 14×48-foot “Put women’s rights over bishops’ wrongs” billboard off busy Interstate 30 east of Highway 360 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The Diocese of Dallas and the Diocese of Fort Worth are among the dozens of Catholic institutions suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Area FFRF member Zachary Moore, who was interviewed about the billboard on TV station WDBJ 7, said he used to be among the many Catholics using birth control, is now a member of FFRF and encourages others like him to “quit the church.”

• For a Fourth of July “grand finale,” FFRF placed a 20×60-foot billboard at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue in New York City, taking its message to Times Square and the home of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. View more photos of the billboard at:


You can find the New York Post’s video coverage at: youtu.be/rqd2lvC09FU

(Yes, the billboard is technically one block from the official Times Square, but it’s at the Port Authority bus terminal, “where zillions pass by, many of them twice a day,” as former New Yorker Lawrence S. Lerner informs us.)

Other educational efforts

FFRF also issued a white paper, “Our First, Most Cherished Freedom: A Statement Exposing the Catholic Church’s Attempt to Redefine Religious Liberty,” thoroughly researched and written by Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, rebutting a phony statement on religious liberty by the bishops. Read FFRF’s statement.

The bishops’ fortnight assault against the contraceptive mandate began on the “the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.” FFRF noted the irony of beginning with a celebration of two men who had people tortured and burned to death for exercising freedom of conscience. FFRF documented the Catholic Church’s bloody history of zero tolerance for dissent.

The bishops charged religious discrimination when federal funds recently were cut off after Catholic institutions refused to provide contraception to victims of sex trafficking. A court ruled against them, noting: “To insist that the government respect the separation of church and state is not to discriminate against religion; indeed, it promotes a respect for religion by refusing to single out any creed for official favor at the expense of all others.”

Previously, FFRF placed full-page ads saying “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church,” in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today. View the ad: ffrf.org/news/releases/ffrfs-quit-the-catholic-church-ad-in-weekend-usa-today/

FFRF raised $100,000 to “Counter the Bishops” campaign, thanks to many kind benefactors of the last-minute effort. “We are deeply grateful for the activism and support of FFRF’s stalwart secularists, allowing a timely response,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We also owe a debt of gratitude to Julia Sweeney for so graciously recording this commercial.”

A separate, slightly longer Web-only message from Sweeney about the bishops’ crusade can be viewed at FFRF’s homepage at ffrf.org.

Freedom From Religion Foundation