WASHINGTON — “We are no longer free when politicians can force us to pay for what we consider sin,” an impassioned Star Parker, the keynote speaker, said at the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally held March 23 in Washington.
Parker was speaking at a noon rally held to protest a mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services requiring religious employers to provide health-insurance policies that include contraception without a co-pay, sterilization and abortifacients. Employers refusing on religious grounds to pay for such policies will face stiff fines.
The event drew more than 1,000 participants to the plaza in front of the HHS building, and, according to Stand Up for Religious Freedom, the organizer, more than 60,000 participants nationwide. It was one of 140 rallies held, all at noon local time.
In Washington, signs with slogans such as “You cannot take my inalienable rights” or “Stop Obama’s HHS Mandate” were waved aloft. Students for Life had a black-and-white sign that read simply: “Where’s the Freedom?”
One woman at the rally carried a sign that read, “God’s servant first,” a reference to St. Thomas More’s statement when he was asked to affirm his loyalty to King Henry VIII.
The rallies took place on the second anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — often referred to as “Obamacare.”
It was the Affordable Care Act that gave the HHS the authority to create the contraception mandate.
“It is because of this piece of legislation that we are here today,” said Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life, who was also featured on the program. “Obamacare gave our government, namely the Department of Health and Human Services, the building we stand in front of here today, the ability to shape the future of our nation and determine who lives and who dies in our society.”
“Never before has our nation seen so much control given to one department, to one person, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius,” Hawkins said.
“Because of this unconstitutional mandate, we are told that our beliefs, our conscience, no longer matter,” Hawkins said. “Friends, this is called tyranny. This is the type of tyranny that our forefathers fled from Europe and why our great nation was founded. It is this freedom that separates us from many other nations and dictatorships around the world which enslave their countrymen.”
Asked to comment on the rally, a spokesman for HHS said, “Our policy accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women. The policy ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care free of charge.”
Star Parker, an anti-poverty activist, said that the mandate puts religious organizations that provide services to the poor in an untenable situation.
“The choice for religious employers,” Parker said, “is bow to Nebuchadnezzar, pay a fine to Caesar — or your charitable organization goes out of business.”
“Why,” Parker asked, “are President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius so hostile to those who are compelled by their faith to serve the poor?”
Parker said that she believes that — ultimately — the mandate will have a positive effect. “The bright side,” she said, “is that because of government’s overreach and its declaration of war on the Church [it] gives us a reason to have a conversation about morality that we should have had way back in the 1960s.”
Rev. Patrick Mahoney, a Reformed Presbyterian minister and director of the Christian Defense Fund, a key organizer of the event, stressed that the rally was “not a finishing point, but the beginning of a revolution of human justice and religious freedom in America.”
A handout pledged that the Catholic bishops and other religious leaders who oppose the mandate “can count on us to carry this fight together to victory” and urged participants to vote in the fall general election for a candidate who would promise to rescind the mandate.
In addition to Parker and Hawkins, speakers included Lila Rose of Live Action and Lori Windham, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and Belmont Abbey College in their lawsuits against HHS.
The Register is a service of EWTN.
While the crowd was dotted with priests in collars and sisters in religious habits, the gathering was decidedly nondenominational. Rev. Johnny Hunter, for example, a Protestant minister and prominent pro-family leader from Lafayette, N.C., said he had come to Washington for the event because “an earthly ruler has decided that religious groups are to obey him and not God.”
“Our Catholic brothers and sisters are under attack, and this is an attack against the whole Church,” Hunter said. “People should understand that when the Church is under attack everybody is under attack.”
Although the assembly occasionally rang out with the chant of “We will not comply! We will not comply!” the crowd was good-natured and laughed appreciatively and clapped when Parker joked from the stage, “No more than my automobile insurance should cover your tune up should I have to cover your sex life.”
Supporters of the mandate have tried to portray those who oppose it as waging a “war on women,” but Lila Rose took issue with this and insisted that the real war on women is being waged by Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide or advocate for abortion.
“Who stands to gain by this mandate?” Rose asked. “Who’s going to step forward [to fill the vacuum if faith-based organizations are forced to close]? Planned Parenthood and their friends. You think they are big now? Imagine what will happen when such organizations take over our health-care system. That will be the real war on women.”
The theme of the gathering was as much the issue of liberty as contraception. Kristan Hawkins quoted former President Ronald Reagan, saying that freedom is “never more than one generation away from extinction.”
“Freedom must be fought for, protected and handed on, or, one day, we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States when we were free,” Hawkins said.
Mahoney reminded the crowd that the U.S. Supreme Court would be hearing oral arguments about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and asked them to join in praying that the court will strike down the law.
Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.