100-plus gather in Charlotte, Winston-Salem for second rallies
CHARLOTTE — Opponents of the federal contraception mandate in health insurance coverage rallied for a second time Friday in front of federal courthouses across the U.S., including Charlotte and Winston-Salem.
The "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rally was held in 164 cities overall and organized by the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, based in Michigan.
Pictured: Protesters hold signs outside the Charles R. Jonas Federal Building in Charlotte June 8 while Cindy Brown of Feminists for Life of America speaks at the "Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally." Read about the first rallies in March here. (Patricia Guilfoyle, Catholic News Herald)
In Charlotte, more than 100 people – mostly women – turned out for the "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rally outside the Charles R. Jonas Federal Building.
Similar to the first rally held in March, this public vigil and protest aimed to raise awareness about the new federal mandate that will force nearly all employers to provide free contraception in their health insurance plans, despite religious objections.
The mandate – part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 and written by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services without outside input – narrowly defines which religious employers may be exempt from the mandate to provide free artificial contraception, abortion-causing drugs and sterilization services as ones that serve primarily people of their own faith and hire people primarily of their own faith.
Most Catholic employers would not meet the requirements of that exemption, as they serve and hire people of any faith, so they face the stark choice of either going against their beliefs by providing free artificial contraception or risk shutting down.
Speakers at the Charlotte rally included Cindy Brown of Feminists for Life of America, Tami Fitzgerald of the N.C. Values Coalition, pro-life OB/GYN Dr. Matthew Harrison and Father John Eckert of Our Lady of Grace Church in Greensboro.
The right to free exercise of religion – not just in the pews on Sunday but in the public square and in one's workplace – is a fundamental right of all people, not a privilege granted by any government, said Cindy Brown of Feminists for Life. As a Catholic woman, she said, she finds it offensive that critics of the U.S. bishops' outspoken opposition to the HHS mandate label that opposition as a "war on women."
"What war on women?" Brown shouted to the crowd, which had gathered to listen over the loud din of construction and lunch-hour traffic in front of the federal courthouse. "That is categorically absurd." This isn't about access to contraception, Brown noted, but about religious liberty and whether the government can force a religious organization to disavow its beliefs.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, echoed that point.
The HHS mandate will drive out religious institutions from providing any health care coverage – exactly the opposite intent of the health care reform effort.
"Health care reform should never take away religious freedom," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald asked, why isn't the government partnering with faith-based health care providers – which have been running hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and more, for hundreds of years – instead of partnering with Planned Parenthood, the country's leading abortion provider, to hand out free birth-control pills?
If the HHS mandate is allowed to stand, Fitzgerald noted, then religious employers who do not comply with it will be forced to pay hefty fines. Essentially, she said, they will have to pay for the right to exercise their beliefs.
Offering protestors hope, Father John Eckert noted in his remarks, is the fact that Christians have often had to stand up for their beliefs despite obstacles and persecutions before – yet the Church remains standing firm.
On this beautiful day in this beautiful country, he said, we must stand with hope and joy because we know that Christ is with us and the Church is on "the winning side."
What worries him, he said, is that the effort to push religion out of the public sphere will harm our democracy. As Christians, we want future generations to have the same freedoms that past generations have fought to protect, he said.
Another speaker at the Charlotte rally was Dr. Matthew Harrison, who recently opened Northgate Family Medicine, a pro-life family medical practice.
As a doctor, Harrison said, it is his vocation to care for people and provide the best health care possible to the most people. This "insidious mandate," he said, does not help him to accomplish that.
"The government does not understand that we serve others not because of what they believe, but because of what we believe," he said. "They are not interested in health care. Rather, they are interested in health control."
Harrison said he has seen too many young women dragged to abortion mills to abort their unborn children, and too many people scared to go to the hospital. Forcing employers to provide free artificial contraception and sterilization services does not help these women get better health care. The HHS mandate does not ensure that life-saving procedures are affordable and widely accessible – it only turns doctors into pill dispensers.
"The government wants me to be a gumball machine: Put in your premium and get your gumball," he said.
He emphasized, "I refuse to provide services that harm my patients, and you should refuse to pay for them."
To learn more about the campaign, go to www.standupforreligiousfreedom.com.
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor
WHAT IS THE HHS MANDATE?
The HHS mandate is a new federal regulation would require nearly all employers to provide free artificial contraception, abortifacients and sterilization services in their employees' health insurance plans.
It is part of implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which sets up new preventative health care coverage specifically for women at no cost. That coverage includes services such as mammograms, prenatal care and cervical cancer screenings, but it also mandates free artificial birth control pills, sterilizations and drugs considered by the Church to be abortifacients – all of which are contrary to Catholic teaching.
For a religious employer that does not want to offer such services, the regulation sets out a narrow exemption: An exempt religious employer is one that "(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a nonprofit organization" under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code. The exact language of the exemption was announced Aug. 1 by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Since the mandate was announced last fall and reaffirmed by the Obama administration in February, Catholic and other religious leaders across the country are decrying this exemption as too narrowly written – particularly parts 2 and 3 – and violates the Church's religious liberty. The Church's ministries do and should go beyond serving and employing Catholics, they emphasize.
Read facts about the mandate.
Read more about the ongoing in our complete religious freedom section.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy