The U.S. Custom House in Charleston was packed with people fired up to protect their religious freedom.
From toddlers to senior citizens, hundreds of participants prayed, chanted and waved signs at the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally held June 8.
Father Edward W. Fitzgerald, pastor of Divine Redeemer Church in Hanahan, was one of many speakers that charged the crowd to take action.
He said forcing religious groups or individuals to support actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented invasion into freedom of conscience.
“It is my prayer that our government will have a clearer and better understanding of religious freedom and also a change of heart to rescind the HHS mandate,” he exhorted.
The group was there to protest the ruling requiring employers to provide health insurance that includes contraception, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.
Another rally was held in Greenville plus about 160 other cities nationwide.
Although the mandate strikes hardest at Catholic organizations, the eclectic mix of speakers stressed that it isn’t a Catholic issue; it’s a freedom issue.
“How can the government pass mandates on religion when church and state are supposed to be separate? You can’t do that,” said Lawrence McIver, who attended the rally from Hope Assembly of God in Charleston.
Tom Monahon, Knights of Columbus state deputy, spoke about the tradition of protecting religious rights and the dangerous shift the country is seeing.
Now, he said, our government tells us we can follow our religion — under certain conditions.
“We can continue to feed the poor … clothe the naked … shelter the homeless, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead, as long as the homeless, thirsty, sick, imprisoned or dead are of our religion. But as soon as we put our faith into action to help those less fortunate who are not of our religion, we must either compromise our religious values or break the law. What is wrong with this picture? It is time to cry foul.”
Participants at the rally agreed.
“It doesn’t make sense for people to be separated by religion,” said Charles Milford, also from the Assembly of God. “We have to stick together and work for one accord.”
Numerous denominations were represented at the rally, although a majority of activists seemed to come from Catholic churches.
These Catholics were concerned not only with the morality of the health care law, but also with the slippery slope of religious regulation.
“When we start talking about them impeding our religious freedom, where’s it going to ever end? This could be the start of something where we can’t practice our religion in our home, in our churches,” said Janeen Zaio, from Stella Maris Church.
A couple of counter-protesters contended that contraceptives are a women’s health issue. But activists echoed comments from the U.S. bishops, saying contraceptives can be purchased anywhere, and this is an issue of trying to govern religion.
“People want to sit back and complain, but they need to be involved if they want things to change,” said Mary Jane Reiss, of the Charleston Air Force Base chapel.
One way to take action is through the Fortnight for Freedom, June 21 to July 4.