The Catholic Church, embroiled in a dispute with the Obama administration over new health insurance rules, has chosen Baltimore to kick off a national campaign it says is aimed at promoting religious liberty.

Archbishop William E. Lori is scheduled to celebrate mass at the Baltimore Basilica on June 21 to open the "Fortnight for Freedom," a two-week national campaign of special liturgies, prayer services and other events leading up to the Fourth of July.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore is the oldest Catholic diocese in the United States. Lori chairs the committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that was created to challenge the insurance rules, which church leaders say would force Catholic schools, hospitals and charities to violate their beliefs.

The rules, written by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of the administration's health care overhaul, would require employers to give workers access to insurance that covers birth control, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

The Fortnight for Freedom is one response to the rules. Critics have questioned the timing, four months before the presidential election. Lori said this week that the effort is not partisan.

The University of Notre Dame, the archdioceses of New York and Washington and other Catholic institutions filed lawsuits against the Obama administration this week over the rules.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore did not join in the suits. Lori, who was installed last week as the 16th archbishop of Baltimore, said it would have been difficult to prepare for the litigation during the transition.

Lori is scheduled to to speak in Washington Thursday at a conference focusing on "Rising Threats to American Religious Freedom."

The Fortnight for Freedom is scheduled to conclude on July 4 with a mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington will celebrate the mass. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia will say the homily.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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