Catholics invited to pro-family Lobby Day Feb. 26

BOSTON -- The upcoming pro-family Lobby Day on Feb. 26 presents the perfect opportunity for local Catholics to voice concerns to their elected representatives, according to Patricia Doherty, executive director of Catholic Citizenship.

Doherty said that it is "critical" for Catholics to get involved in politics.

"Everybody belongs in the public square, but it is particularly important for Catholics to understand that they need to be in the public square because we are being attacked," she said.

Doherty cited the example of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the group of women religious who have filed suit against the U.S. Health and Human Services Mandate that requires employers to provide contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs through their health care plans. The sisters want to serve the poor the way they always have without violating their Catholic beliefs. Organizations that do not comply face steep fines. The sisters are one of dozens of Catholic organizations legally challenging the mandate.

The annual lobby day is sponsored by the Coalition for Marriage and Family. The day starts with an information session, held in State House Room 437 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. After that, participants will be sent out in groups to speak with elected representatives. The event is free, and lunch is provided.

Doherty said that of particular concern locally is House Bill 3793, "An act relative to healthy behaviors." If passed, the bill would mandate the Massachusetts Health Curriculum Frameworks, including sex education. The bill was sent to the House floor late last year, but after public outcry, it was sent back to committee for further study.

Doherty indicated that the bill is not dead yet, saying, "Every time we turn around, the far left is pushing a health curriculum agenda that is basically graphic sex education from kindergarten on up."

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference also opposes the bill and says that parents, not schools, need to be at the forefront of sexuality education.

Opponents of mandating the health curriculum statewide say that the fact that the legislation was sent back to committee is proof that calls from concerned citizens have an effect.

Doherty said the more calls, the better, adding that face-to-face meetings with legislators are even more effective.

In an e-mail to supporters, Catholic Citizenship highlighted two other significant local issues, including the adoption of nationwide standards in education, called Common Core curriculum, and the Massachusetts Transgender Rights Law, dubbed the "Bathroom Bill" by opponents, which passed in November 2011.

Dorothy Courtermanche, a parishioner at Christ the King Parish in Mashpee, said that she and like-minded friends on Cape Cod plan to speak with their legislatures about the Common Core at the lobby day.

"It's basically a one-size-fits-all federal curriculum, and it totally leaves out school committees and school boards, parents and teachers," she said. "We want it gone."

Courtermanche said she has contacted her elected representatives in the past, adding, "You'd be surprised what a call or letter can do because so many people don't bother."

She hopes that the lobby day, which will be her first, will allow her to make an even greater difference. "People will complain, and I'll always say, 'Yeah, I'm with ya, but you gotta do something.'"

Bea Martins, a Catholic from Fall River and frequent participant in previous lobby days said that she hopes more locals will join her.

"It's a lot more meaningful when a constituent from the legislator's district is there in person," she said. "It would be wonderful if 15 people showed up from one legislator's district."

She added that she finds the days "uplifting," particularly because she gets to meet other voters who have similar legislative concerns.

Martins said she finds the information sessions to be a great resource for her to understand better important local issues. She encouraged participants to pick an issue that resonates with them when they speak with legislators.

She stressed that lobby days are about building dialogue, something that is much more effective in person.

"E-mails, letters, all of those are wonderful ways of contacting your legislator," she said. "However, having a person actually take the time out of their day, to go to Boston, the legislators know that that's a real commitment, and so your presence carries a lot more weight than an e-mail or a letter."

Traveling to Beacon Hill also affords the opportunity to ask questions and get into a give and take conversation with representatives, she said.

Martins added that she has always found legislators to be courteous and urged constituents not to be intimidated when talking with them.

"They're just people. They work for us," she said.

To register for the Pro-family Lobby Day, e-mail with your name, voting address, e-mail and phone number.