Today there will once again be rallies around the country insisting on the defense of religious freedom. Find one near you and bring a friend in need of encouragement and education before the November election. Or do something this weekend to better educate American voters within your reach about the choice they face this election. If the Obama administration gets away with the erosion of religious liberty that marks the Department of Health and Human Services abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate, it will be due to ignorance. That is something you can combat.
Eric J. Scheidler, one of the founding fathers of this effort, talks about what’s been going on and why.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why have you helped organize freedom rallies this weekend?
SCHEIDLER: Saturday’s Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally, taking place in over 130 cities and towns from coast to coast, was organized to protest the HHS mandate and highlight the crucial issue of religious freedom in advance of Election Day.
The HHS mandate, implemented under Obamacare, forces employers to provide free abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives to their employees through their health plans, without regard to any moral or religious objections. The federal government shouldn’t be bullying employers in this way.
LOPEZ: Whose freedom is endangered?
SCHEIDLER: To answer the question of whose freedom is endangered by the HHS Mandate, let’s take a look at two employers who have filed suit against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the HHS Mandate.
Chris and Mary Anne Yep founded the Chicago-based Triune Health Group 22 years ago, with a commitment to be guided by their Catholic faith in all their business dealings, including the environment they create for their employees, especially women. Triune was recognized earlier this year as the “Best Workplace for Women” by Crain’s Chicago Business, largely because of their generous health care plan.
Likewise, John Kennedy, founder and CEO of Autocam Corporation, is a devout Catholic who has run his family-owned business for 24 years in accord with that faith, again providing a generous benefits package to his workers. [Read an interview with Kennedy here.]
Both the Yeps and the Kennedys cannot reconcile the same faith that has led them to create successful, responsible companies, with complying with the mandate that they provide free contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. Nor can their businesses survive if forced to pay the HHS mandate’s penalty of $100 per day, per employee for not providing those “services.”
So whose freedom is threatened by the HHS mandate? Not just the Yeps and the Kennedys, but everyone of their employees, too, who stand to lose their jobs if these companies are driven out of business by this coercive mandate.
These are the kinds of employers we should be encouraging through our health care and other policies — not driving out of business.
LOPEZ: What do you find most alarming on the freedom front? most encouraging?
SCHEIDLER: The most alarming aspect of the HHS mandate, by far, is the narrow “religious exemption” it provides — not even Jesus and the Apostles would have qualified. Nor would Mother Teresa, had she ministered to the sick and dying under Obamacare in the U.S. (and in fact her Sisters of Charity are not exempt).
The HHS Mandate defines a religious institution as one which employs and ministers to exclusively members of its own denomination, and which is devoted primarily to inculcating religious doctrine. So organizations that answer Christ’s call to care for the “least of my brothers,” without regard to what religious faith they may practice, does not qualify for the “exemption.”
Catholic hospitals, evangelical universities, even a Bible publisher are not considered sufficiently religious in character to be exempt from the HHS Mandate.
If the Obama administration is successful in defined “freedom of religion” down to mere “freedom of worship” — what happens between the four walls of the church on Sunday, but not what happens at the church soup kitchen Monday through Friday — the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom becomes a dead letter.
But over against this grim prospect is the astonishing explosion of groups dedicated to fighting for religious freedom — not just over the HHS Mandate, but other attacks coming from government at all levels on the freedom of religious institutions and individuals to live out their faith in the public square.
The overwhelming response to the Stand Up for Religious Freedom campaign is just one example. I’ve lost count of the number of organizations founded or otherwise energized this year in response to these new threats to religious freedom — Catholics Called to Witness, Conscience Cause, The Catholic Association, the list goes on. Religious-freedom caucuses are being created in the legislatures of at least nine states.
The impact of this new religious-freedom movement — for it is new in its zeal and urgency, and it truly is a movement — will be far reaching for many years to come.
LOPEZ: Are you sure this not just a last-minute ploy to get Mitt Romney elected president?
SCHEIDLER: When I began organizing the first Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally back in February, I had a Rick Santorum sign in my front yard. I’m not working for Mitt Romney, though I’m gratified that he’s vowed to throw out the HHS mandate if he’s elected. Voters who are concerned about religious freedom can look at the candidate’s positions and make up their own minds.
If those who care about religious freedom decide to vote for Mitt Romney in the presidential election, that’s because they believe he follow through on his promise to rescind the HHS mandate and respect religious freedom. But it’s the issue that’s driving these rallies, not some cynical political puppet masters.
LOPEZ: There have been a few of these nation-wide rallies? Who is behind them really? what have you learned?
SCHEIDLER: Our first Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally was held on March 23 and the second on June 8. Together they comprised over 300 different rallies with over 125,000 people attending.
The leadership of the Stand Up Rally consists of myself and my pro-life colleague Monica Miller, executive director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society. The bulk of the actual organizing, as well as the funds needed for such things as providing tens of thousands of protest signs across the country, has been handled by my organization, the Pro-Life Action League.
When I look around my modest office and think of the long hours my small staff has put into this effort, I have to chuckle at the notion that someone behind the scenes is quietly directing our efforts. This is as grassroots as it gets.
LOPEZ: Why don’t they get much media coverage?
SCHEIDLER: The March and June Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies generated hundreds of news stories all across the country. Coverage varied form market to market, with every outlet giving time to the local rally in some places, while coverage elsewhere was less satisfactory.
We have received some national media attention — Laura Ingraham, Hugh Hewiit, National Public Radio and Fox News, for example, besides, of course, National Review Online.
Taken together — along with non-traditional media, like the Examiner and the Patch, and social media, like Facebook and Twitter — the Stand Up Rally has created a significant media presence.
Proof of this is the ubiquity of our “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” signs in stories on the HHS mandate. Crowd shots featuring these signs have been appearing everywhere since the spring.
That said, we would love more media coverage. This is an issue the mainstream media have been slow to cover, having to a large extent bought the Obama administration’s total falsehood that the concerns of religious employers have been “accommodated.”
Reporters I talk to about this are astonished to learn that the “accommodation” announced on February 10 is fiction as a solution; the mandate as filed does not include it.
LOPEZ: What would you hope citizens consider about freedom this year?
SCHEIDLER: It should trouble all Americans that so many of us are crying foul on religious freedom. Even if you don’t understand our problem with the HHS mandate — let alone why anyone would question the value of contraceptives — the fact that so many of their fellow citizens are in anguish over this should give them pause.
So we’re calling on all Americans to ask why we had to have this fight. Even if they can’t understand why the Catholic bishops, for example, would rather shut down their soup kitchens and hospitals than violate settled Catholic doctrine on birth control and abortion, they should ask whether it’s worth it, especially considering that there is no contraception access crisis in this country.
LOPEZ: Where will you be later today?
SCHEIDLER: I will be emceeing the Stand Up Rally in Chicago, which includes a march from Federal Plaza to Daley Plaza, symbolizing a shift from battling this issue at the national level to bringing it home on Election Day.