.- On June 8, Stand Up For Religious Freedom will hold its second round of national protests against the contraception mandate, continuing the movement that drew tens of thousands of protesters in March.
“We're up to 154 rallies across the country now, which is about 10 more than we had last time on the rally day,” said Stand Up For Religious Freedom's communications director Matt Yonke. The group is “expecting a few more (cities) to trickle in before Friday,” when the events begin at noon local time.
Organized in response to the Obama administration's denial of conscience rights to religious institutions, the first set of rallies included 28 Catholic bishops as well as other Christian and Jewish leaders. This time around, Yonke said, publicity and group endorsements have “only been bigger.”
“We had 64,000 (people) last time,” he recalled, noting the attendance tally from the first round of coast-to-coast demonstrations that took place March 23. “I definitely think we're going to top that.”
Under the leadership of national co-directors Eric Scheidler and Monica Miller, Stand Up For Religious Freedom has built a coalition that includes 96 Catholic and non-Catholic religious and civil rights organizations.
Stand Up For Religions Freedom's first nationwide rally took place on the anniversary of Patrick Henry's “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death” speech. Its upcoming event coincides with the 223rd anniversary of James Madison's introduction of the Bill of Rights to the first U.S. Congress.
The new wave of protests comes as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the 2010 health care law, under which the contraception mandate was drafted and finalized. The mandate requires employers to
purchase plans that include coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so goes against their beliefs.
Soon after the June 8 protests, U.S. Catholics will join with their bishops in a “Fortnight for Freedom” dedicated to religious liberty.
The forthcoming Supreme Court decision, Yonke explained, is “one of the reasons we wanted to do the rally when we're doing it.”
That way, he said, “(whichever) way the ruling goes, we've got people who are engaged, and active, and ready to move on to the next step of the fight” for the free exercise of religion.
No matter what the future of U.S. health care brings, Yonke said Catholics and other religious believers “need to have a significant place at the table.”
The Church has “been doing health care for thousands of years now. And we have something to say about it.”
Yonke said the dispute over conscience rights had intensified in recent months, as the Obama administration “dug in its heels” and refused to reach a mutually-acceptable agreement with critics of the contraception mandate.
Meanwhile, Stand Up For Religious Freedom's message has “spread farther and wider,” building popular momentum against the federal rule.
“There are new people getting informed all the time. And the more they get informed about it, the more they're getting upset about it,” Yonke noted. “So the opposition is only growing.”
Some activist groups have accused opponents of the mandate of fighting a “war on women,” or using the cover of religious freedom to advance a partisan agenda. But Yonke disagreed, citing well-known allies of the president who have broken ranks over their disagreement with the contraception rule.
Prominent commentators and thinkers, including National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters and former U.S. ambassador to Malta Doug Kmiec, have found the mandate to be “a bridge too far,” he pointed out.
“This is far from a partisan effort,” said Yonke. Rather, it is simply an attempt to stop “the government imposing itself on our faith.”