Pope urges bishops to defend religious liberty

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Pope Francis is encouraging U.S. bishops to continue to defend religious liberty in America in a message that will be welcomed by conservatives fighting for conscience exemptions on gay marriage and the Obama administration’s health care mandate.

Speaking from the South Lawn of the White House with President Barack Obama at his side, Francis said religious liberty is “one of America’s most precious possessions.”

He says everyone in America is called to “preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

Religious freedom has become a rallying cry for opponents of gay marriage in the U.S. who don’t want to recognize same-sex spouses in their charities, schools, hospitals and businesses.

The issue is a major point of tension between Obama and the U.S. bishops.

(C) WLNE-TV 2015 / AP