Religious freedom rallies held in Charlotte, Marion, Winston- Salem
CHARLOTTE — Hundreds of people gathered peaceably outside federal courthouses in Charlotte, Marion and Winston-Salem March 23 to protest a 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.
Pictured: Protesters hold signs outside the Charles R. Jonas Federal Building in Charlotte at the "Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally." (Patricia Guilfoyle, Catholic News Herald)
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 compromising on Church teaching by providing free artificial contraception or risk shutting down.
The Obama Administration has affirmed the HHS mandate and given religious employers a year to figure out how they will follow the mandate, but Catholic leaders and other religious organizations have vowed to fight the mandate as an unjust restriction of religious liberty.
Friday's "Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally" was a public demonstration of this opposition to the HHS mandate, and a chance for people to speak out, get involved, and pray. Demonstrations were held nationwide, with the largest held in Washington, D.C.
In Charlotte, guest speakers outside the Charles R. Jonas Federal Building included Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte, the Rev. Dr. Mark Harris of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, Jeannie Wray of Room at the Inn in Charlotte, and Dr. William Thierfelder of Belmont Abbey College.
Bishop Jugis gave the opening prayer. Then Thierfelder spoke about the college's lawsuit against the federal government – a legal fight the college hopes will prevent the implementation of the HHS mandate before it is set to go into effect in 2013 and 2014. Their lawsuit is among several filed against HHS and being coordinated by the non-profit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C.
Thierfelder, pictured, described the battle as one akin to that of Daniel in the lion's den, and that all people of faith must speak up to defend religious freedom.
Wray said the HHS mandate directly threatens Room at the Inn's ability to continue its ministry of helping pregnant women in need – all women, whether they are Catholic or not.
"This is a very dangerous precedent," Wray said, and she was greeted by cheers from the enthusiastic crowd. "This is about religious intolerance. And make no mistake, if we don't stand up now, Catholic hospitals, schools and colleges could become a thing of the past, and we will be fighting religious persecution."
Tears welled up in her eyes as she continued, "I love my country and I am proud to be an American, but I am being forced to choose between my faith and my country."
Holding his Bible and preaching loudly for all to hear, First Baptist Church's pastor Harris then emphasized that this battle is not just a Catholic one – all Christian believers must stand up and fight this mandate, as our Christian duty.
Christians all have a responsibility to speak up when their government is forcing them to do something in violation of their faith in God.
"Jesus Christ never said keep quiet and just ignore the government," Harris said.
Christians must be politically involved, they must vote, they must advocate for what they believe is right, and they must pray for their government leaders.
"Christians are responsible for taking a stand in this day and in this generation," he said.
The rally concluded with everyone singing "God Bless America," and participants being asked to continue speaking out through email, phone calls, social media, and personal advocacy in an effort to rescind the HHS mandate.
— 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 more about the ongoing controversy.
MISSIONARY IMAGE MAKES APPEARANCE AT CHARLOTTE RALLY
The Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was also brought to the rally for people to venerate and photograph. The missionary image will be in the Diocese of Charlotte for 10 days, until April 1, going to local parishes, schools and three abortion mills.
Learn more about the missionary image.
VIEW VIDEO FROM THE CHARLOTTE RALLY: Click here.
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