After three consecutive days of rain, the skies cleared Saturday to allow for a gorgeous autumn day in Chicago for the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally’s flagship event.
In the shadow of the building that formerly housed the transition team offices of President Barack Obama, enthusiastic crowds packed downtown Chicago’s Federal Plaza and received signs reading “Stand Up for Religious Freedom”, “Stop Obama’s HHS Mandate”, and “Vote for Life and Liberty” along with handheld American flags.
Shortly after noon, the assembled crowd of 1,700 made their way to Dearborn Street and marched four blocks north to Daley Plaza. At the front of the march were dozens of teens and young adults from the Crusaders for Life pro-life club based out of Chicago’s St. John Cantius Parish, who held aloft several 15-foot high yellow balloon trees and led the crowd in a series of exuberant cheers.
At Daley Plaza, the first speaker was Father Frank “Rocky” Hoffman, who with great gusto emphasized the appropriateness of speaking out against injustices like the HHS Mandate in the public square because, as Fr. Rocky said, “We are the public!”
To underscore this point, he pointed out to the crowd that it was their tax dollars that funded the construction of the very plaza where they were assembled, and led the crowd in repeating, three times, “We built this!”
Next up were Chris and Mary Anne Yep, owners of Triune Health Group, which was named the “Best Workplace for Women” by Crain’s Chicago Business earlier this year. The Yeps are among dozens of plaintiffs who have filed lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services over the HHS Mandate.
The Yeps explained that due to their Catholic faith, they could not in good conscience provide their employees with insurance that covers contraceptives, which not only violate their religious beliefs, but also, as Mary Anne explained, are an assault on womens’ “feminine genius.”
Following the Yeps’ speech, Pro-Life Action League Executive Director and Stand Up Rally Co-Chairman Eric Scheidler — who served as M.C. — pointed out to the crowd the irony in one of the chants being used by a group of two dozen demonstrators who were protesting our rally: namely, “Not the Church, not the State, women must decide their fate.”
“Not the State?” Eric repeated. He went on to point out that the fight against the HHS Mandate is all about preventing the state from infringing on the rights of individuals to act in accord with the dictates of their conscience and their faith.
The next speaker was Angela Miceli, a a Ph.D. candidate at Louisiana State University in political philosophy who is currently working on her dissertation on the subject of freedom of conscience as a visiting fellow at the University of Notre Dame. Miceli focused her remarks primarily on the particular harms that the HHS Mandate poses to women, noting, “If we view pregnancy as a disease to be prevented, which is an inevitable mindset when you call contraception ‘preventative medicine,’ then this speaks volumes about our culture.”
Dr. Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor of the internationally known Moody Church, then spoke about the “intolerance of ‘tolerance,’” and noted how assaults on religious liberty have become increasingly common in recent years as a result of a deeply flawed understanding of the First Amendment in which “all things seem to be an ‘establishment of religion.’”
He then pointed out that the First Amendment also states that Congress shall pass no law “prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]”—but that adherents of the “new tolerance” all too often forget that.
The final speaker was Dr. Pamela Smith, an Obstetrician/Gynecologist at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, and a past president of the American Association of Pro-Life Ob/Gyns.
Dr. Smith noted that during the Clinton administration, the federal government tried to force Ob/Gyn physicians to become abortion providers, and, thus, the HHS Mandate is not the first time that the federal government has attempted to force individuals to become complicit in providing abortions, and so must be seen within a larger context. She concluded her remarks with a spirited explanation of what our response should be in the face of such assaults on our consciences:
We stand on the truth that life begins at conception. That’s a biological fact. According to our religious liberty, there are health care providers and institutions who have taken an oath before God, who is a higher authority than that of the state, and it is our responsibility to protect that life, to nurture that life, not to stand in judgment on it, and disregard it just because the government gives us permission to do so.
The Rally concluded with a prayer led by Joe Scheidler (Eric’s father), followed by a rendition of America the Beautiful.
Without a doubt, Chicago’s Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally was a great success.