Tens of thousands of people are estimated to gather Friday in 131 cities across the nation to rally around the mantra of religious liberty brought on by President Obama's mandate on birth control.
"We are honored to be hosting a 'Stand Up for Religious Freedom' rally here in Washington, D.C. at the HHS building," the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Fund, told The Christian Post. "When the president issued the HHS mandate, what he failed to understand is this is not an issue about health care – it is one of religious freedom."
The rallies will take place at noon on Friday and will feature prominent religious leaders and elected officials at each location. What began as an effort to plan rallies in 40 to 50 cities has now grown to over 130.
More than any other policy issue that has come before the American public, President Obama's directive to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that religious institutions must cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in their employees' health insurance even if it violates their conscience has brought the debate to the point of personal attacks from both sides.
Even before the mandate was issued by President Obama in late January, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, led now by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, encouraged the White House not to overreach and put religious institutions in the position of having to publicly oppose the White House.
However, the mandate extended far beyond the Catholic community, touching other Christian groups and denominations who felt the government had over-stepped its boundaries by forcing Christians to compromise on their beliefs.
Later Obama issued what he called a "compromise," by amending the mandate to say religious institutions or organizations did not have to participate, but that insurers would still have to provide birth control and abortion inducing drugs. The group of Bishops still held firm in their opposition to the mandate.
After Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke met with a group Democratic Congressmen and women and advocated for free birth control for all women, especially those who are sexually active, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh referred to her in unflattering terms that only intensified the debate.
Mahoney, who is an ordained Presbyterian minister, said the issue has hit a nerve not only in America, but worldwide.
"For the first time in American history you have a president who is telling a church how to practice their faith," said Mahoney. "If he feels he can get away with telling the Catholic Church – who has traditionally been a champion of major social issues – then he will start telling other denominations and religions what they must and must not do."
"One highlight of our D.C. rally is we are hosting a pastor from Korea who has been fasting and praying over this issue. It's one thing to see this type of dictatorial rule in Communist or third-world counties, but it's truly upsetting to see this happening in the land of the free," Mahoney said.
More than the debate over health care, Mahoney believes there is a much larger issue that will define the upcoming elections in 2012.
"In 2004 we say about 55 percent of the Catholic vote go to Republican candidates," he noted. "In 2008, that same percentage went to Democrats. But beyond the Catholic vote, this issue is drawing people, especially women, from both parties to our side."
"And I can say with confidence that whoever the Republican nominee is, they will support this issue and not dictate to the church what they should and should not believe."