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Catholic Bishops Leave Civil Rights Group After Kagan Endorsement

First Posted: 05/21/10 12:04 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 05:30 PM ET

Elena Kagan

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. Catholic bishops withdrew from a national civil rights coalition on Wednesday (May 19) after the group advocated on behalf of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

The Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCR) was founded in 1950 by African American and Jewish leaders to press for the passage of national civil rights laws.

But in recent years, the coalition has broadened its agenda to include advocacy for issues that contradict the bishops' principles and policies, said Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., who chairs the bishops' committee on justice and peace.

"The latest example of this is the LCCR support of the solicitor general's nomination to the Supreme Court," Murphy said in a statement. The support for Kagan, an abortion rights proponent who was President Obama's solicitor general, "compromises the principled positions of the bishops," Murphy said.

Murphy did not mention any other issues that contributed to the decision. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops' conference, said the LCCR's expansion of civil rights to include protections for gays and lesbians was another potential point of disagreement.

The LCCR did not respond to a request for comment. Included in its 200 members are the American Jewish Committee, National Council of Churches, and Planned Parenthood.

As Murphy noted, the LCCR has advocated for or against Supreme Court nominees in the past. Listed under "historic victories" on their website is "the successful campaign to keep controversial judicial nominee, Robert Bork, off the U.S. Supreme Court." Bork, a conservative, was nominated by former President Ronald Reagan in 1987, but the Senate rejected his nomination.

Conservative Catholics, including a group founded by former GOP adviser Deal Hudson, pressed the bishops to quit the LCCR.

Progressive Catholics responded on Thursday by accusing the bishops of being "completely beholden to the extreme conservative wing of Catholicism."

"In recent months, (the bishops) have shown that it is more important to them that they placate the demands of a few loud conservatives than to promote civility, human rights and social justice," said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice.

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Filed by Clay Chiles  |