(Photo: The Christian Post/Katherine Weber)
NEW YORK – Hundreds gathered in New York City's Financial District on Friday to attend the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally, held in protest of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The protest, led by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, was held in 160 cities Friday, including Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Miami. Opponents of Obamacare say it violates the Constitution's First Amendment right of freedom of religion.
"I'm here to stand up for religious freedom. It is one of the most fundamental of our rights. When our government abuses those rights, then the entire future of our nation is in peril," protester Mike Lahey told The Christian Post.
The Affordable Care Act, overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, includes a mandate that all institutions, including religious schools and hospitals, provide their employees and students with health care coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, such as Plan B. There is an exemption but it is so narrow that most religious institutions would not qualify.
Many see the Act as a violation of religious freedom as it forces those who are morally opposed to birth control and abortion to pay for such services.
"I think there's a concerted effort on the Obama administration to chip away at religious freedom. It's really sad because that's what our nation is founded on – religious freedom," Lahey maintained. "And when we start chipping away at the rights of some, the rights of others will fall. It's a dangerous path to be going down."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has officially opposed the mandate, calling it unjust and unlawful "because it entails an element of government coercion against conscience." The bishops also rejected President Obama's compromise in which health insurance providers would have to directly provide the services if the institution objects to them. But religious institutions say they would still be paying for the services through higher premiums.
Guest speakers at Friday's NYC rally, held at New York City's Federal Hall National Memorial, included several prominent local leaders in the pro-life movement.
Eileen Peterson, president of the Rockland County Catholic Coalition, held a sign which read "Breast Cancer Can Be Caused by Abortion."
"This is such a vital issue. Never in the history of the United States of America have we ever been forced to violate core beliefs in our conscience by any government, so this is huge. If we do not take a stand now, then we will have nothing to stand for," Peterson told CP.
Friday's rally comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares its final decision this month over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Protester Tom Fabery said that although he believes the Supreme Court will overturn the health care law, he believes "America better wake up."
"Every year there is approximately 50 million babies killed through abortion worldwide. That's a billion every 20 years. And that doesn't count the ones that are killed by the different types of pills they are giving women; the preventative ones and also the post pregnancy ones as well," Fabery told CP.
A similar nationwide anti-Obamacare rally was held in March and, according to event organizers, 63,000 people in about 130 cities turned out to express their discontent with the HHS mandate.