A rally was held against a mandate requiring insurance to cover contraceptives.
Just steps away from where the U.S. Constitution was signed, hundreds gathered last Friday, March 23 to protest the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that protesters said restricts their First Amendment right to religious freedom.
Students from the Temple University Newman Center, a Catholic Church on Main Campus, joined with area Catholics and anti-abortion supporters at Independence Hall at noon Friday, March 23, to assert their opposition to the mandate that would require many Catholic organizations to provide contraceptives in health insurance plans to employees.
In an attempt to contrast their message with the legislation they call “un-American,” the protesters began their rally by singing “America the Beautiful” and then reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Rev. Paul Schenck then opened with prayer. After decades of service to the church, Schenck has become an ordained minister, although he is married with eight children, and is an anti-abortion activist.
“We must firmly resist and insist that our religious liberties be restored,” Schenck said.
A few students dressed in Catholic school uniforms were also in attendance. Schenck clarified that their protest is not an opposition to universal healthcare, but rather, he said they were solely concerned with protecting their religious freedom.
Michael Rogers, a senior and two-year facilities coordinator at the Newman Center, said he believes the mandate violates patient conscience rights.
“You cannot force a Catholic hospital to hand out an abortion or contraception to someone,” Rogers said.
He said the mandate is “out of touch” with Catholic values.
“It does not respect devout Catholics who practice their faith and do not want the government interfering with their practice,” said Rogers, who added that he believes the mandate is an assault by President Barack Obama’s administration on the first amendment.
Although she was not able to attend the event, Alyssa Gunderman, a junior music therapy major and social coordinator at the Newman Center, said she firmly believes in its cause.
“We are given a constitutional right to have the freedom of religion,” Gunderman said. “Religion is such an important part of the lives of many, and to force someone to partake in something that goes against everything they full-heartedly believe in is the opposite of freedom and everything our country is supposed to stand for.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has been applauded by the Philadelphia Catholic community for being more vocal about issues than his predecessors, discussed the mandate in his weekly column.
Last month, he wrote that the Feb. 10 compromise issued by HHS “does not solve the problem,” and called for the mandate to be rescinded.
Originally, the mandate would have forced all religiously affiliated organizations to provide contraception access as part of their health coverage. The controversial compromise would exempt churches from this requirement, but not Catholic charities, universities, schools and hospitals.
In opposition to the rally, a small group of people wearing cardboard signs that read, “Women should have a choice” meandered through the American flag-waving crowd to spread their own message.
Obama recently attempted to make further compromises with those in opposition to the mandate, proposing that contraceptive coverage be the responsibility of a third party, or insurance company, rather than the religious institution and to extend exemptions to more religious organizations.
Haley Kmetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.