FORT WAYNE, SOUTH BEND — People of various faiths stood with Catholics in 134 rallies across the United States — including Fort Wayne and South Bend — on Friday, March 23, to protest the Health and Human Services mandate requiring all employer health plans to include free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate allows no moral or religious objections, and thus is an assault on religious freedom.
A letter from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was read at the South Bend rally by Father Jacob Runyon, parochial vicar of St. Matthew Cathedral, and at the Fort Wayne rally by Sean McBride, diocesan director of communications.
“I want to offer a word of thanks and encouragement for all those who gather today to demonstrate their commitment to the freedom of religion and to freedom of conscience,” Bishop Rhoades wrote. “While these are among the most cherished of freedoms in our country, they are today — almost unbelievably — under attack.”
As the mandate stands, “almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies,” wrote the bishop.
“Just last week,” Bishop Rhoades continued, “the Obama administration decided that all colleges and universities — including those that are religiously affiliated — would be required to provide these so-called services to their students as well. This still unfolding mandate is an unprecedented attack on this liberty since it coerces religious institutions and citizens to pay for actions that violate our moral teachings and religious beliefs.”
He added, “Our Founding Fathers recognized the innate right to religious liberty when they enshrined this right as our first freedom in the Bill of Rights. The author of the First Amendment, James Madison, wrote: ‘Conscience is the most sacred of all property.’ Thomas Jefferson wrote: ‘No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.’”
Bishop Rhoades shared that the implication of the mandate for the Church and other religious groups in the United States are grave.
“In the coming months, we must focus our energies on fighting this unjust mandate and defending our religious liberty. I exhort everyone to be engaged on this issue. We need to defend our cherished rights and resist violations of our first freedom,” Bishop Rhoades wrote. “We must hold firm, be courageous in this matter and be united in our defense of the religious liberty granted us by God and protected in our nation’s Constitution.
“Let us all commit ourselves to prayer and sacrifice so that truth and justice may prevail and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing. With God, nothing is impossible. May God guide us and strengthen us in these efforts!”
Several Catholic speakers and legislators, as well as Lutheran and Baptist Church representatives spoke at the Fort Wayne rally hosted by the Allen County Right to Life.
After reading Bishop Rhoades’ letter, Sean McBride closed the rally speeches. He traced the history of American freedoms through the Greatest Generation and Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
“Our fathers and grandfathers took up arms to defend against these grave threats; the threats against life, liberty and their pursuits of happiness. My grandmother sent four sons off to war. By the grace of God, three returned to her. I wonder how my grandmother would look upon her dear nation today.”
McBride said, “Flash forward roughly 70 years. The fight has come to us. Who knew the threat would originate from the oval office and our own commander-in-chief; a man that took an oath before God and country. And I quote: ‘I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”
“I won’t call him a liar,” McBride said, “but I will offer it up for history to decide. But I can say this: that this administration is taking a sledgehammer to a cornerstone of our nation and it must be stopped!”
He quoted Ronald Reagan and said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, 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 where men were free.”
McBride asked those gathered at the rally, “What will our grandchildren say about us 75 years from now, as they tell their children what happened during these dark days? Now is not the time to stay comfortable! Now is not the time to clap politely. Engage in the conversation. Make your voice heard! Make this cause a sacred, personal duty.”
McBride concluded, “And do not, do not, stand behind your pastor, or your bishop. Stand in front of them!”
In South Bend, over 300 people filled downtown’s Jon R. Hunt Plaza, where they prayed quietly as several faith leaders asked for God’s blessings, and they applauded and cheered vigorously as other speakers exhorted them to resist the unjust HHS mandate.
Lisa Everett, co-director of the diocesan Office for Family Life, offered her perspective as a woman, a Catholic, a mother and someone employed by a religious organization.
The mandate is “particularly galling,” she said, because “It flies in the face of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by our Constitution … that necessarily includes the right to refuse to participate in activities that one considers to be very wrong.”
Equal treatment under the law also is being flaunted by the mandate, Everett said, given that the Obama administration has granted an exemption from the entire health care reform law to the Amish and to Christian Care Ministry, but refuses to give a conscience exemption to Catholics.
She suggested that the Obama administration has taken this stand because it believes contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs are preventative services that enhance the health and well-being of women, so women should get those services free.
“It is precisely because the Catholic Church in particular has a clear and consistent moral code which characterizes contraception, sterilization and abortion as intrinsic evil, that the administration wants to ‘stick it’ to the Church,” Everett said.
The South Bend rally was organized by Tom Uebbing of the Stand up for Religious Freedom coalition.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.