Religious freedom rally shakes state capitol
A sturdy Missouri State Capitol building needed every one of its pillars to hold strong as a couple thousand supporters of religious liberty boomed with applause for speakers who implored the state legislature to pass bills protecting those rights. They also sent a strong message to the Obama administration that they won’t stand for a decision forcing them to act against their conscience.
In January the Department of Health and Human Services announced that almost all employers, including Catholic agencies, would be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes contraception, sterilization and potentially abortion-inducing drugs in direct contradiction to Church teachings. A subsequent change to require insurance companies to provide those services free of charge makes no difference, the speakers noted.
The crowd, wearing red and spending part of the day visiting with legislators, arrived in buses and cars coming from around the state.
“We wanted to let our representatives know that we don’t like what’s happening,” said Rita Roberson of Holy Spirit Parish in Maryland Heights, who arrived on a bus with her husband, John.
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Robert O’Shaughnessy of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Hazelwood met with Rep. Margo McNeil, who represents his district but is not in favor of the legislation, SB 749 and HB 1730. “I did my best to speak with her cordially and make my points,” he said. “I appreciated that she did take the time to speak with me.”
But O’Shaugnessy said he finds it hard to believe that legislators are not respecting the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion.
Later, the Senate advanced SB 749 without changes, making it ready for a full vote in the Senate.
The speakers represented the Missouri Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, USA, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson cited the ecumenical “stand with us as witnesses to say this is about religious liberty, and we will never give up this freedom. … They are here so that we can say clearly to all: We will render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but we will not render unto Caesar what belongs to God.”
He said in a strong voice that “we cannot, in good faith, comply with the mandate as it is written. Every avenue compromises our mission and forces us to render unto Caesar what belongs to God.”
The message to President Barack Obama, he said, is that “we stand as followers of Jesus Christ” and ”we are ready to march.”
The archbishop asked Missouri legislators to pass the bills “so Missouri can be an example to the nation.”
Maggie Karner, director of life and health ministries for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said the news media has missed the main points of the story. “I’m here because this is not just a Roman Catholic issue … nor is it an issue about birth control, nor is it an issue about women.”
As a woman, she said, “I want to make sure that everyone understands that this birth-control mandate, and the public debate that surrounds it, isn’t about ‘women’s issues at all. It’s an issue that concerns all of us American citizens and our constitutional rights. We’re all here today to oppose the government’s attempt to control our choices; especially those of the most personal kind, those that violate our consciences.”
No one is advocating for denial of access to contraception, she said. “Nobody is threatening women’s health. Nobody is outlawing anything for the general population. Rather, this debate is simply about us being
forced to pay for products and services contrary to our religious beliefs. We cannot be expected to check our faith at the door.”
Karner said the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod wants to continue to respond to Christ’s call “to care for our neighbor, wherever that may be — – in the pew, or in the streets. But to do this, the federal government has to remove itself from, and stay out of, our consciences.”
Darrin Rodgers, director of Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, read a statement from George O. Wood, superintendent of the General Council of Assemblies of God, USA. While evangelicals hold different views of contraception than the Catholic Church, he said, they realize the danger of establishing a precedent that leads to further and further encroachment by the government upon the First Amendment, which states that the free exercise of religion shall not be prohibited.”
No employer or employee should be required to pay for abortion drugs, contraceptives or sterilization procedures, he said, urging bipartisan support for the state legislation and prompt approval by Gov. Jay Nixon.
Dr. John L. Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, said the issue in ”the American culture war” is a defining moment in history. He said the decision made by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “throws people who actually practice their faith under the secular religionist’s steamroller.”
The Obama administration “has declared war on religion and freedom of conscience,” he added.
Dr. Yeats recalled the country’s Founding Fathers and their efforts to craft a government much different from England, where the monarch had control of religion.
Compliance with the ruling means “we must close our institutions or capitulate our faith,” he said.
Carly Vordtriede, an eighth-grader attending the rally with class members from St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School in south St. Louis County, said they spoke with state Sen. Jim Lemke, a supporter of the Senate bill. Vordtriede said religious freedom is a right, and “it’s not fair for them to take it away from us.”
She was pleased to see so many Catholics of various backgrounds attending the rally. “It’s what the Church should be — everyone coming together for a cause, unified.”
You may view the official statments from the speakers by downloading the PDF documents below.
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