By Jason Tomassini
BALTIMORE, Nov 14 (Reuters) - U.S. Catholic bishops said on Monday that religious freedom had been whittled away by same-sex marriage, abortion and healthcare legislation, and vowed to ramp up efforts to protect it.
At a meeting of 300 bishops gathered for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the newly appointed committee on religious liberty announced plans to respond to legislation it says comes between citizens and their Catholic beliefs.
That includes Alabama's recent crackdown on immigration, which prevents undocumented citizens from receiving religious services, said committee member Reverend William Lori, the bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Other examples included a New York town clerk who faces legal action for refusing to administer same-sex marriages after New York state last summer became the most populous state to legalize gay marriage.
And, in Illinois, Catholic charities are considered discriminatory for not placing foster children with same-sex couples, Lori said.
"The services of the Catholic Church are more crucial than ever," Lori said. "But it's becoming more difficult for us to deliver these services."
The bishops singled out the U.S. Department of Justice's opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman, and the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, as challenges to religious liberty.
The conference included presentations from committees on "the promotion and defense of marriage" and "pro-life activities."
Lori also noted an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that says it is unconstitutional for the department to contract the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help victims of human trafficking.
The conference would not use grant money to provide contraceptive and abortion services to victims, the suit says.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Jerry Norton and Paul Simao)