by Gene Marrano
More than 100 protests were planned across the United States last Friday, gatherings characterized as rallies for religious freedom. “The rally is in response to the Health and Human Services [dept.] mandate that will require all employers to pay for insurance that covers early abortion drugs, sterilizations and contraception…and for all private insurance companies to cover these things,” said Suzanne Guilfoyle, one of the organizers in Roanoke, where at least 100-150 were on hand for a noon-time rally outside the Poff federal building in downtown Roanoke.
President Obama did tweak the mandate after the initial furor, which was part of the Health Care Act of 2010 now being contested in the U.S. Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. That tweaking allowed that religious organizations can serve people of their own faith (such as at a church) to their liking, but provided no exemption for employers at religious universities, schools, non-profits or media outlets. It does require that the insurers themselves must offer that coverage for such services.
“Basically, pregnancy and women’s’ fertility is now a disease that needs to be covered by health insurance,” said Guilfoyle in characterizing one facet of “Obamacare” that has some up in arms. (Many supporters of women’s’ rights however applaud the health care mandate that now requires insurance coverage.)
At the Poff building rally private school students from Roanoke Catholic mixed with protesters of all ages, including local Catholic priests. Pete Larkin, representing Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte and the 6th District, was also on hand.
Father Kevin Deaton from St. Elias Catholic Church led the invocation and spoke to the crowd as well: “Thank God to all of you for coming,” said Deaton, “bless our solidarity [and] the cause for religious freedom.” Deaton called the new mandate to cover contraception, early abortion drugs and the like “an attack on religious freedom.” He blamed Supreme Court decisions over the past few decades in helping to create a safer climate for abortion “and [other] vices.”
Deaton said he was not speaking as a Democrat or as a Republican in opposing the mandate, which could become moot if the Supreme Court ultimately shoots down the health care reform package passed two years ago as unconstitutional. “The compromise with evil will turn that government into a dictatorship of moral collapse,” he warned.
Teresa Clarke from Salem was standing on the corner at Franklin and 2nd Street, holding up a sign in protest. “It’s important to stand up for our religious freedom,” said Clarke, who is Catholic. “It’s an attack on our…faith.” What Health and Human Services wants to cover added Clarke, “goes against our religious teachings.”
Requiring insurers rather than employers to cover those services doesn’t satisfy Clarke either, since the church uses many of those insurance companies. “That would make us complicit.” Clarke said people don’t really know what the Health Care Act really entails, and how it could endanger their freedoms.
“This is a real battle for our religious freedom…only the beginning,” said Clarke, who envisions religious schools and hospitals closing down instead of having insurers cover the services in question. She believes the Supreme Court will find the health care legislation unconstitutional but suspects the Obama administration would just find a way around that decision. “I have real concerns about that.”
Andrea Sexton was one of the speakers: “this HHS mandate is severely redefining what it means to be a religious institution. We need to stand up and say no. This is not about contraception. This is about religious liberty… a fundamental right to practice a religion … and have your conscious respected.”
Sexton, also a Salem resident, said Catholics around the country – and other religious groups, even some atheists, have been energized by the debate. “They understand this is about the U.S. Constitution and what it means to be an American. This is [about] the first amendment.”