(Photo: Stef Patag)
Protesters in more than 140 U.S. cities held rallies against President Obama's mandate on birth control at town squares Friday to defend their position that the HHS policy is an attack on religious freedom.
The Rally for Religious Freedom was coordinated at the national level by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society. Leaders of the individual rallies included a large contingent of Catholics, but protesters included believers from various faiths and denominations across a broad spectrum, said organizers.
The crowds at the rallies held beginning at noon local time ranged in size from about 60 people in Saginaw, Mich., to more than 2,000 in Chicago and near the same size gathering in San Diego.
Jeff White, the organizer of the Los Angeles rally where more than 500 people met outside the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, told The Christian Post after the event that politicians should beware of this new-found grassroots movement.
"Those that are promoting the HHS mandate better watch themselves in this coming election because the church at large has the power to take this down. A powerful movement has begun," said White, who is a leader of a national pro-life group. "I am sure that this is not the end of it. We are going to see more rallies that are a great way to educate the church and inform the politicians."
President Obama's directive to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that states that religious institutions must cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in their employees' health insurance has led to strong opposition, especially from the Catholic community.
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.
Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler, who co-chaired the national event, told The Christian Post Friday after most of the rallies were completed that next week he will be planning, along with a core of 150 leaders from cities in the U.S., how to proceed forward.
"For us working at the Pro-Life Action League, the HHS mandate which both attacks the sanctity of life by treating fertility like a medical condition and pregnancy like a disease requiring free mandated so-called preventive care, and freedom of religion which motivates us to move into the public square to work for a better America, activism was a natural response," Scheidler said.
"What really excites me is that I am now in touch with activist leaders, some of them at their very first event or action that they've ever participated in. I have 150 activist leaders that I can work with and train in the best practices of activism," he continued. "There's a whole core of activists that we've raised up through this effort and I just can't wait to put them all to work on behalf of the sanctity of life and the vigorous expression of religious faith in the public square."
At the courthouse in Saginaw, several songs and prayers were sung and recited during the beginning of the rally, said Jo Henton, who attends Reformed Church in Midland.
"This was followed by praying through the rosary twice, with praise to God, and prayers for the unborn in between the two rosary cycles," Henton told CP. "I think I was the only non-Catholic there. I was disappointed in the fact that nothing was said about the Freedom of Religion issue, but that only the right to life [issue] was addressed."
However, reports from Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, and St. Petersburg, Fla., indicated that the rallies were attended by people of many denominations and faiths. Freedom of religion was a prominent theme at most rallies, according to CP sources attending the events.
In San Diego, where nearly 2,000 people attended, an enthusiastic crowd included nuns, priests, pastors, and rabbis, San Diego organizer Mary Moran told CP. "At end of the rally students from St. Ephrem Maronite School led the crowd in the Our Father and then sang God Bless America," she said.
Scheidler said that although Catholics have the highest profile in the U.S. and were able to engage their network for this event, all faiths and religions are represented in the movement.
"This was a very ecumenical day and moving forward will be a very ecumenical day," Scheidler said.
About 250 people attended the rally in St. Petersburg at the intersection of two major streets, where they held signs and listened to speakers.
"When 250 (people) is one of the smaller rallies in the nation, I believe we have done a good job uniting against the injustice of an anti-freedom law," Jayne White, a co-leader of a pro-life group attending the rally in St. Petersburg, told CP. "We are blessed to have two separate parts (California and Florida) of our organization, Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, on either side of the country standing up for the right of religious freedom."
Contributing to this article was Internet evangelist Jeremy Caverley.