The Catholic Church in East Tennessee is condemning a contraception mandate. They argue that it violates their conscience and freedom of religion.
Beginning next year, the Health and Human Services Department requires employers health insurance plans to cover all forms of FDA approved contraception. That's everything from the pill to sterilization to Plan "B."
At all 47 parishes in the Diocese of Knoxville, priests read a letter from Bishop Richard Stika about the concerns that he, the Pope, and bishops around the country have about the mandate. It that would require Catholic affiliated organizations-- like schools and hospitals-- to cover birth control for employees.
"This ruling will have dire consequences on Catholics nation wide," the letter reads. Click here to read the entire letter.
Bishop Stika urges fellow Catholics to take action.
"The purpose of my letter was to let people know that this is occurring. But also to know that there's a real attack on the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion," he said in an interview Sunday.
Although the government offers exemptions for religious organizations, Stika believes the definition is too narrow.
"If the employees are strictly catholic or the school is strictly catholic, then there would be an exemption. But in the world that we live in today that's impossible," he said.
His diocese employs non-catholics through its organizations. In the next year, he will have to decide whether or not to offer contraception in his employees plans or take penalties. The penalties are around $2,000 per employee per year.
Catholics say asking them to make that decision is a violation of their conscience.
"Why would we offer something the we consider to be immoral? It would be like giving poison to someone. You know its going to destructive. In terms of our faith we believe that life is sacred," Stika said.
But more than that, the church views these government actions as a broader shift from freedom of religion to freedom of worship. They say it affects not just Catholics, but other religions.
"It's no longer freedom of religion, it's freedom of worship. You can do what you want inside the confines of your church but don't take it outside of the church."
After Knoxville church members heard the plea, many supported the bishops actions.
"I think they've finally woken up to the fact that religion is under attack right now and its not just the Catholic Church, but other religions. It's just about time," said Dennis Bushman, a Knoxville parishioner.
"I like that it's coming to light and the bishops are taking a stand because slowly but surely through the back door things like this are happening more and more often," said , also a Knoxville parishioner.
But not everyone agrees with the Bishop's argument. We talked to a few parishioners who didn't want to go on camera. They say they don't think the issue should've been a part of mass.
The Health and Human Services Department said in a press release that birth control has significant benefits for women and is documented to reduce health costs.
For most employers, the mandate goes into effect in August 2012.
HHS is allowing religious non-profits an extra year to make the transition.