Several thousand people rallied outside the Kansas Statehouse on June 29, where Catholic bishops, Gov. Sam Brownback and others addressed threats to religious freedom posed by the federal contraception mandate.
Michael Schuttloffel, Executive Director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, estimated that 4,000 people gathered in the sweltering heat for the Topeka event.
“We hope that our rally, in concert with all the other rallies and events across the country, sends a message loud and clear to the president and to the administration and to all of our policymakers at the federal level that we’re taking this extremely seriously,” Shuttloffel told CNA July 2.
“This is just the beginning of this issue, not the end of it,” he continued. “We are not going to comply with this policy.”
Rose Hammes, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, said that having thousands of people turn out on “such a hot day” shows that the issue is really of concern to Catholics in the state.
“If things don’t change in the political realm, it will happen again,” she said.
The June 29 rally was part of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign organized by Catholic bishops in response to the Department of Health and Human Services mandate. A federal rule announced Jan. 20 now requires most employers, including many Catholic institutions, to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacient drugs.
The religious freedom exemptions are narrow and the details of a proposed accommodation from the Obama administration are not yet clear. Catholic charities, health systems and colleges and universities are unsure whether they can fulfill the mandate in good conscience.
Over 40 Catholic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame and the Archdioceses of New York, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., have filed suit against the mandate.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City said the controversy raises questions about the direction of the United States as a country.
“Where are you going America?” the archbishop asked. “Where are you going America, when our own federal government attempts to limit severely religious freedom, the first constitutional right in our nation’s Bill of Rights?”
He said that the administration’s religious exemption is so narrow that Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity would not qualify.
“The reality is that we are gathered here today to just maintain the status quo, not to advance any agenda, the archbishop continued. “It is the administration who has chosen to pick this fight at this particular time. It is they who are waging a war against women and men of faith.”
He warned that if the mandate stands it will provide a precedent to coerce other Americans to “violate their deeply held moral convictions on any other matter.”
Archbishop Naumann promised that Catholics and others will pray, advocate and vote and will never give up their religious liberty.
Gov. Brownback told the crowd that the federal government “cannot be allowed to break religious Americans to the saddle of a federal mandate.” He contended that the Obama administration’s policies “mandate a disregard for conscience and require the faithfully religious to violate their beliefs.”
Other speakers included U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Dr. Timothy Boyd of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists.
Cathy Ruse, Senior Fellow for Legal Studies at the Family Research Council, was the rally’s keynote speaker.
Schuttloffel said Ruse was “very direct” in criticizing those mandate supporters who claim opposition is part of a “war on women.”
He said Ruse described this as “entirely an election year contrivance.”
“There are a lot of Catholic women who oppose the mandate and resent the fact that they’re really just being used as pawns in a political game.”
While Schuttloffel said the rally was a “tremendous success,” he also voiced frustration at “the unwillingness or inability of the media to cover this subject properly, or to cover it at all.”
“This really is about religious freedom, it’s not about contraception,” he said.