PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, March 13, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The bishops of Pennsylvania have asked the state’s 3 million Catholics to offer their Lenten fasts and prayer for protection against the Obama administration’s attacks on religious liberty by forcing religious employers to pay for abortifacient drugs, sterilizations, and birth control.

In a strongly-worded letter dated March 7, the ten bishops, led by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, also ask for an extra day of fasting on Friday, March 30, in response to the U.S. Health and Human Services mandate as “an unprecedented and gross infringement” against the religious liberty normally enjoyed by religious institutions in America.

“Make no mistake about it – this government mandate is a step which will inevitably lead to other mandates that continue to strike at the heart of our Faith and the constitutional liberties we have been guaranteed,” write the bishops. “The mandate cannot stand – it must not stand!”

Chaput and the other bishops called for members of their flocks to set aside March 30 - the last Lenten Friday before Good Friday - as a day of fasting with the intention “that the Church may be granted the basic right to practice what she preaches, and for our political leaders, that their eyes may be opened to the rights of all Americans, including those of faith.”

The prelates also encourage Catholic to contact their legislators through the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference’s website.

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“The mandate must be rescinded. Our freedom and liberty must be preserved. And in this effort, we must remain steadfast,” they write.

The clarion call is one of several voiced by Catholic bishops in America once it became clear last month that President Obama wouldn’t back down on the new mandate, which is set for implementation by August 2013. Cardinal George of Chicago warned in a February 26 column that Catholic hospitals would be forced to close under the rule he likened to religious restrictions under the Soviet Union.

In his initial response to the mandate last month, Archbishop Chaput, who has authored a book on the intersection of Catholic faith and American politics, emphasized that the Obama administration knew what it was doing to the Church when it issued the mandate.

“The current administration prides itself on being measured and deliberate. The current HHS mandate needs to be understood as exactly that,” he wrote. “Commentators are using words like ‘gaffe,’ ’ ill conceived,’ and ‘mistake’ to describe the mandate. They’re wrong. It’s impossible to see this regulation as some happenstance policy. It has been too long in the making.”