A smoldering conflict

A razor-thin victory for U.S. President Barack Obama in the wrangling over health care reform: the U.S. Senate voted by the required 60 votes to allow a bill to proceed to debate. Earlier, high-ranking representatives of Christian churches had criticized the U.S. government's stance on the abortion ie in a manifesto. The smoldering conflict between President Barack Obama and the clergy is becoming increasingly clear.

In a manifesto, 145 representatives of the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches say they are not willing to obey laws that require their institutions to participate in abortions or force them to recognize same-sex partnerships as marriage. The document is titled: "Manhattan Declaration – A Call of Christian Conscience". It states, "We pledge to each other and to our fellow believers that no power on this earth, cultural or political, will intimidate and silence us." The goal of the manifesto, he said, is to signal to President Obama that Christian leaders in the country are united and unwilling to compromise on ies such as abortion, stem cell research or "gay marriage". The authors of the manifesto, commissioned in September, are Charles Colson, closest adviser to former U.S. President Richard Nixon, Catholic law professor Robert P. George of Princeton University, and Timothy George, dean at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. The signatories also include 15 Catholic bishops, among them the archbishops of New York and Washington, Timothy Dolan and Donald Wuerl. Health care ref bill The conflict between the U.S. government and clergy was already particularly palpable when the House of Representatives voted on the health care reform bill in early November. It includes an amendment drafted by conservative Democratic Rep. Brat Stupak that the bishops' conference in particular had lobbied to have inserted into the bill. The so-called Stupak Amendment prohibits funding abortions with public money. The only exceptions would be cases of rape and incest and danger to the life of the mother. The bishops' influence on the outcome of the vote has been widely discussed in media and Internet forums. Such interference by the church, it has been criticized, violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, which legislates separation of church and state. For years, the Catholic Church has lobbied for health care reform that would provide health insurance to every U.S. citizen. For this reason, many Democrats from the conservative camp give high priority to the opinion of the bishops' conference. Attempting a balancing act Obama, meanwhile, is trying a balancing act. On the one hand, he and his wife Michelle are supporters of the "pro-choice" faction, which demands that women should decide for themselves about abortion. On the other hand, he wants to prevent taxpayers from having to pay for abortions. White House chief counsel David Axelrod most recently said in an interview that Stupak's amendment would change the status quo on abortion – a change Obama won't accept. U.S. bishops also have little faith in Obama when it comes to gay marriage ie. While the president remains opposed to legal status for same-sex partnerships, he declared in October at the Human Rights Campain annual gala before about 3.000 predominantly homosexual guests: "Homosexual relationships are just as true and admirable as heterosexual marriages."Such statements have led many U.S. conservatives, such as Gary Bauer, president of the non-governmental organization American Values, to declare, 'It's hard to believe that Obama is really opposed to same-sex marriage; and based on the people advising him, you may even have to fear that he wants to abolish marriage." A reference to Cass Sunstein, White House information officer. Sunstein was most recently quoted as saying that marriage discriminates against single people and puts them at an economic disadvantage. Catholic outcry Such statements make many Catholics cry out. So at their fall plenary meeting in Baltimore that ended Thursday (local time), the bishops once again underscored their position, saying that legalizing "same-sex marriages" would harm society. So far, gay couples in the states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont can enter into civil marriages, but as of 1. January also in New Hampshire. Another ie causing strong dissonance between the church and U.S. government is stem cell research. A report condemning both reproductive technologies and scientific research on human embryos was adopted at the bishops' plenary session. In March, Obama had overridden the Bush administration's veto of public funding for stem cell research.

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