Meg McDonnell, executive director of Women Speak for Themselves, a diverse coalition of thousands of women from around the country who have challenged the contraceptive mandate, told CNA that the government's position miscalculates women's role in religion and the good religious organizations provide their communities.
"When the government handed down this mandate, they miscalculated how strongly women in particular feel about the right to live according to their beliefs," she said. "What we saw today were representatives of several different religious institutions talking about how religious organizations provide for communities," both as providers and as those who have been helped by religious organizations.
What unifies the speakers and members of Women Speak for Themselves, McDonnell said, is their request that the "government allow organizations to continue to serve the 'least of these'."
Celia Harris, a college senior at Geneva College, one of the plaintiff in the case, told CNA that she sees hopes other young people see the mandate as a challenge to their constitutional rights. "This is not about birth control, it's about our freedoms being threatened."
Harris also asserted that her college's defense of religious convictions is a natural outgrowth of its progressive history. Geneva College was one of the first colleges to advocate the abolition of slavery, supporting the Underground Railroad and was also one of the first colleges to admit women, Harris said.
"We're very progressive in our time, we don't see this as a setback, we don't see this as old-fashioned, we see it as an expression of the rights that the founders built our country on."
Gloria Purvis, chairperson of Black Catholics for Life and radio host for the EWTN radio show, Morning Glory, also spoke at the rally. She told CNA that she was "appalled" by the government's framing of the issue as a health issue when the government has other avenues for reaching its goal of contraceptive access.
"Really what this is about is forcing those who don't believe as the government believes to either be bankrupt or to comply – to violate our conscience."
In her opinion, Purvis said, groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor should not have to choose between their consciences and their ministries.
"Let them serve, let them follow their faith, and the government has no role in defining faith for its citizens."