Chicago: Stand Up Ground Zero

Not to be deterred by terrible weather, a crowd of 2,500 people of all ages descended on Chicago’s Federal Plaza today for the city’s Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally—the flagship location of the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom’s 140 sites.

In the shadow of the building that formerly housed the transition team offices of President Barack Obama, enthusiastic crowds packed the Plaza in the pouring rain and received signs reading “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” and “Stop Obama’s HHS Mandate”, along with handheld American flags. By 11:45 a.m., it was clear that the crowd at the Rally — scheduled to start at noon — was going to far exceed our expectations.

Prior to the official start of the Rally, Pro-Life Action League Executive Director and Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom Co-Chairman Eric Scheidler addressed those already assembled and read off crowd totals he had received from Rally Captains in East Coast cities, where rallies were then in progress—e.g., Cincinnati: 500, New York: 900, Detroit: 1,000—all of which were greeted with enthusiastic cheers.

GSA Refuses to Turn Power On

At about 11:50, the Rally was dealt a potentially major setback: electrical power to the Plaza was cut, meaning that our  P.A. system was inoperable.

It’s unclear whether this was due to weather-related issues or if a federal employee willfully decided to turn the power off, but one thing is clear: the General Services Administration—the Federal Government agency that granted us the permit to use the Plaza in the first place—refused to turn the power back on.

But we were not about to let a Federal Government agency stifle our Rally’s protest of the Federal Government’s HHS Mandate, so we quickly switched to Plan B: Eric Scheidler’s bullhorn.

With a crowd of 2,500 people, a bullhorn is certainly not ideal, and not everyone was able to hear the Rally speakers who had to use it.

But meanwhile, one of our veteran pro-life activists borrowed 100 feet of extension cord from a nearby construction crew on their lunch break and talked to the supervisor at the Post Office adjacent to the Plaza and asked if we could plug in there.

The supervisor graciously agreed, and around 12:30 p.m., our P.A. system was working once again, and the crowd responded with enthusiastic cheers.

By this time, a crowd of hundreds from Chicago’s St. John Cantius Parish—many of whom were members of the Crusaders for Life teen pro-life club, famous for their pro-life flash mob videos—had arrived at the Rally carrying dozens of yellow “LIFE” balloons, some of which were tied together to make a giant “floating Rosary”.

Speakers Underscore the Need to Fight the HHS Mandate

The opening invocation at the Rally was delivered by Father Thomas Loya of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church. Following the invocation, each of the speakers at the Chicago Rally for Religious Freedom spoke boldly about the serious dangers posed by the HHS Mandate.

Mary FioRito, Executive Assistant to Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, noted in her remarks that Catholic institutions have been providing health care for centuries without providing contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs, and wondered if she somehow missed the “crisis” that now warrants that they now be provided.

Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) pulled no punches and said those of us who oppose the HHS Mandate should be prepared to go to jail for our beliefs. He also underscored the crucial importance of the November elections, as did Mary-Louise Hengesbaugh, former Archdiocese of Chicago Respect Life Office Director and currently a board member for Illinois Citizens for Ethics (ICE) PAC.

Hengesbaugh also said she was deeply offended by the HHS Mandate, because it amounts to the Federal Government telling women what they need.

Dr. Anthony Caruso, an OB/Gyn physician at Alexian Brothers Medical Center, said he feels like a “a pawn in this Chess game being played in Washington.” He warned about the dangers the HHS Mandate poses to medical professionals in particular, saying, “Doctors who wish to practice medicine are soon going to have to leave their conscience and religious faith at the door of their offices and provide full services”—including abortion and contraception.

Father Sammie Maletta—whose stirring homily on the HHS mandate went viral on YouTube, having received over 700,000 views—quoted the first 16 words of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) and spoke on the radical dangers the HHS Mandate poses to it.

Father Stewart Ruch, an Anglican priest at the Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois, spoke about his church’s opposition to the HHS Mandate, saying, “When you wake up the Anglicans, you know you’ve got a crisis on your hands.”

Also speaking at the Rally were:

  • Sheila Liaugminas, Host, “A Closer Look with Sheila Liaugminas”, Relevant Radio
  • Pastor Steven Anderson, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chicago
  • Dr. Joronda Crawford, Co-Director, Pro-Life/Pro-Family Coalition
  • Fr. Richard Simon, Pastor, St. Lambert Parish, Skokie
  • Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL, 3rd Congressional District)
  • Brian Burch, President, Fidelis Center for Law and Policy
  • Joe Morris, President, Lincoln Legal Foundation; Past President, B’nai B’rith in the Midwest
  • Peter Breen, Executive Director, Thomas More Society Pro-Life Law Center

Rally Participants Receive Their “Marching Orders”

To close out the Rally, Eric Scheidler gave the Rally participants their “Marching Orders”, which include calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard and ask their Congressman and Senators to support legislation protecting religious freedom and stop the HHS Mandate, and printing off copies of the HHS Mandate Fact Sheet [PDF] from the Rally website to pass out to others.

When Eric announced that the Chicago crowd was the the largest crowd of any Rally site that had reported thus far, the 2,500 Rally participants erupted in applause.

The Rally ended with the signing of Amazing Grace—the standard way of closing a Pro-Life Action League event.

Clearly, despite obstacles, the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom’s flagship event in Chicago was a great success.

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