Americans speak up for religious freedom at nationwide rallies
By Michelle Bauman
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.- Men and women of all ages raised their voices in support of religious liberty in the nation’s capital on March 23, speaking out against the federal contraception mandate and joining with those who participated in the Rally for Religious Freedom in locations across the country.

“I think it’s remarkably important because it’s a gateway move by the government,” said Libby Barnes, age 22.

Barnes told CNA that she is “used to the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception being unpopular.”

But while she has become accustomed to having Church doctrine mocked, questioned and misunderstood, she believes that the mandate reaches a new extreme.

Barnes said that she took time off work to attend the D.C. rally. While she does not routinely miss work, she said that she made an exception in this case because she believes that the issue is critical to the future of the nation.

It is “hard to believe” that the government could try to remove a right that is so clearly protected in the U.S. Constitution, Barnes said. “The bottom line is they’re taking away religious freedom.”

Barnes joined a crowd of Americans who gathered at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington, D.C. at noon on March 23 to stand up for religious freedom.

Tens of thousands of individuals were expected to participate in rallies taking place in about 150 cities across the country.

The rallies were organized by pro-life groups to voice opposition to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, which will soon require employers to offer health insurance plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.

Rally participants said the mandate infringes upon their First Amendment right to religious freedom.

Joseph Jablonski, a freshman at The Catholic University of America, said that he “joyfully” accepts the Church’s teaching on contraception and human sexuality.

Jablonski said that he might one day own a business, and he fears that the contraception mandate may infringe upon his ability to do so in accordance with his faith.

The regulation prohibits free exercise of religion because it prevents the Catholic Church from “being able to spread her joy,” he explained.

Cindy Harris attended the rally with her three young children to show that she is “totally, totally against this mandate.”

Harris said that she is “very annoyed by the media turning this into a women’s issue.”

The Church is not threatening to prevent women from accessing contraception, which is already widely available at low cost, she said.

Rather, she explained, the federal government is “coming into our churches and our institutions” and telling them what to do.

She warned that the mandate may be a “slippery slope” to further government intrusion on people’s lives that could eventually lead to a type of “tyranny” in America.

Harris hopes that her presence, as well as that of the others at the rally, will encourage members of all faiths and religious backgrounds, so that “all religious institutions, not just Catholic ones, will stand up and fight this.”

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