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Knights of Columbus
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Knights of Columbus

The Knights of Columbus is a Roman Catholic fraternal organization, named in honor of Christopher Columbus. It is open to membership to Catholic men age 18 and over. It was founded by a Catholic priest, Father Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Connecticut on February 2, 1882, and incorporated under the laws of Connecticut on March 29, 1882. Although it is not under direct control by the Roman Catholic Church, it supports it enthusiastically. The principles of the order are Charity, Fraternity, Unity, and Patriotism. The vast majority of the membership live in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Philippines.

Originally instituted to give support to all brother Knights, at a time when Catholics were regularly excluded from the unions and men's organizations that provided social support services, the Knights of Columbus today is a multi-million dollar non-profit charitable organization. Knights may be seen distributing Tootsie Rolls brand candies to raise funds to fight mental illness, volunteering for the Special Olympics and other charitable organizations, erecting pro-life billboards and "Keep Christ in Christmas" signs, conducting blood drives and raising funds for disaster victims, or parading at patriotic events with their bright capes, feathered chapeaux, and ceremonial swords. The Knights of Columbus also provide annual funding for the satellite uplink of Pope John Paul II's worldwide Christmas address. In many countries that cannot afford satellite downlink, the Knights often pay for this as well.

Knights are encouraged to purchase K of C life insurance policies, but they are not required to do so. The "CEO" is also Supreme Knight and leader of the fraternal organization (currently Carl A. Anderson).

Hierarchy descending from the Supreme Knight include State or Provincial Deputies leading each geographical state, District Deputies overseeing several Councils and a Grand Knight heading each local Council in a specific geographic area. Councils are numbered in the order in which they chartered into the organization and are named by the local membership. The knights have ceremonial uniforms, and a variety of closed-door rituals and traditions.

A similar organisation exists in Ireland, known as the Knights of Columbanus after the Irish saint Columbanus, also known as Columban.

Political activities

In the United States, the Knights of Columbus adopts social conservative positions on many political issues, campaigning against abortion, same-sex marriage, and use of the First Amendment by the courts to promote secularism in schools and government. In 1954, lobbying by the organization convinced the United States Congress to add the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance recited daily by most American schoolchildren.

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