Catholics in South Carolina joined thousands of others at rallies across the country to promote religious freedom and protest the recent contraception mandate.
Those who attended the rallies March 23 said the federal mandate violates religious freedom because it would require employers to offer the coverage even if it goes against their beliefs.
About 500 people turned out for a rally near University Square in Greenville. Another at Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek drew about 88 people, including some who drove from Bluffton and Myrtle Beach.
Speakers at Immaculate Conception included the church’s pastor, Adorno Father Nicholas Capetola, and other area ministers. Church member and rally organizer Timothy Kenefick said he has been concerned about the contraception mandate since it was introduced Jan. 20.
“It’s important to speak out because if we don’t stand up for our religious freedoms, it will be like a domino effect and all of the rest of them are going to be taken away,” Kenefick said. “I hope these events brought light to the fact that our basic freedoms are God-given, not given by man. The politicians we have elected need to stand up for our freedoms and the will of the people.”
The Greenville rally drew an ecumenical group. Speakers included Valerie Baronkin, Respect Life regional coordinator for the Piedmont Deanery; and Nancy Mc-Grath, a member of St. Mary Church in Greenville who is a nurse at St. Francis Women’s Hospital and is a natural family planning practitioner.
McGrath said in an interview with The Miscellany that she agreed to speak because the idea of religious freedom is so important to her. She fears that, without strict protection of religious liberty and conscience, pro-life medical and nursing students could eventually be denied admission to certain medical schools if they said they were against abortion or contraception.
“The politicians are just wanting to focus on the contraception issue, but the issue is bigger than that. It could affect anything we believe,” McGrath said. “Could I eventually be told to keep my stained glass image of the Blessed Mother out of my window if it offends my neighbor?”
The rallies were organized by the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago and Michigan-based Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, according to a report from Catholic News Service.
Organizers estimated nationwide turnout between 58,000 and 65,000. Events were held in 140 cities including San Francisco, Charlotte, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C.
In her speech, McGrath said religious liberty, one of the founding principles of the United States, is threatened by the proposed contraception mandate.
She hopes the rallies help unite Catholics, evangelicals and other denominations in the state so they can overlook past disagreements and focus on the importance of religious liberty.
“It’s a monumental issue, and we all have to do our piece to get the word out,” she said. “I looked out at that group of about 500 people, and I realized that if everybody just gets out and does their little bit in their part of the world, we could do a lot. Keep talking. Your neighbors are listening to the sound bites or whatever the headline is, and not digging in to the real issue. If we don’t do something about religious freedom, we’re going to get rolled over.”