The Georgetown University Knights of Columbus sponsored a panel Tuesday night in response to the controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s new regulations governing contraception coverage.

The panelists, four of five of whom represented religiously conservative groups, expressed concern that the announcements from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services violate the freedom of religion protected by the First Amendment.

“The media tries to frame this issue in terms of birth control and sexual rights, but it’s really much bigger than that. This is about the government failing in its duty to protect our freedom of conscience,” said panelist Kellie Fiedorek, staff counsel for Americans United for Life and Advocates for Life.

Monsignor Charles Pope, the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church in Washington, D.C., also a panelist, argued that the Catholic Church is being specifically targeted by the legislation. He and other panelists urged the Church’s laity to resist the measure and voice their concerns to government representatives.

“We can’t rely on the courts to keep saving us,” Thomas Peters, the founder of Catholicvote.org, said. “Catholics have great social power because of our institutions, and we must do everything we can to protect them.”

Timothy Shah, associate director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, agreed that religious freedom is a central topic in the discussion surrounding the federal policy.

“In many ways, religious freedom is the issue of our time. In the First Amendment, the first words of the Constitution, religious freedom is enshrined,” he said.

Emile Doak (COL ’14), the warden of Georgetown’s chapter of the Knights of Columbus, said he thinks many students don’t agree with the panel’s opposition to the new policies, which require that all employers, including religiously affiliated institutions, provide health insurance cover contraceptives or offer an alternative insurance provider that will.

“I feel that there’s a lot of opposition to our Catholic movement on college campuses,” Doak said. “We’ve got to be more informed so that we can defend ourselves better and expose all sides of the issue.”

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