A Dixieland jazz band. A swing dancing flash mob. Stirring speeches by members of the Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic faiths. All of these and more were part of the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom’s flagship event today in downtown Chicago’s Federal Plaza.
A record crowd of 3,500 attended the rally—far surpassing the crowd of 2,500 that attended the city’s first Stand Up Rally on March 23.
This 40% increase in attendance is a clear sign that opposition to the HHS Mandate—not only in Chicago, but nationwide—is showing no signs of slowing down.
Band Sets Tone for the Rally
Beginning at 11:30—thirty minutes before the rally was scheduled to start—the enthusiastic mood was set by the sounds of Dixieland jazz provided by the West End Jazz Band.
Following an opening prayer led by Pastor Calvin Lindstrom of the Church of Christian Liberty, Rally M.C. Mary FioRito—the executive assistant to Cardinal Francis George—introduced the first speaker, Pro-Life Action League Executive Director and Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom co-chairman Eric Scheidler.
In his speech, Eric emphasized that in crafting the HHS Mandate, President Obama and his administration had teamed up with the wrong people—Planned Parenthood, et al. However, he added, the enormous participation in the Stand Up for Religious Freedom sends a message that when that time comes to once again attempt to craft health care policy, the administration should instead partner with organizations like the Catholic Church, which have been providing health care for centuries.
An Attack on One Religion “Is an Attack on Any Religious Faith”
The next speaker was Asma Uddin, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a columnist for Islamica Magazine. Earlier this year, the House Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing on the HHS Mandate and its threats to religious liberty, which featured four expert witnesses, one of whom was Asma.
In her speech, Asma talked about the critically important work of The Becket Fund and the wide array of religious traditions represented by their clients whose religious liberties the group protects.
She observed that the HHS Mandate is a symptom of a federal government that is increasingly failing to respect religious freedom, also noting the threats to religious liberty often faced by Muslims in the United States.
Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz, Founding Chair of the Legislative Committee of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, spoke next. In his speech, Rabbi Lefkowitz observed that the fight against the HHS Mandate was by no means merely a Catholic issue, noting that an attack on one religion “is an attack on any religious faith in this country.”
He also spoke proudly of a formal resolution recently passed by the Rabbinical Council of America in opposition to the HHS Mandate, earning great applause from the crowd.
Following Rabbi Lefkowitz’s talk, an audio message from the Archbishop of Chicago was played in which the Cardinal commended those participating in the rally for their resolve to stand up for their right to religious freedom.
HHS Mandate Eviscerates Conscience Rights
The next speaker was Nancy Kreuzer, the Illinois Regional Coordinator for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign post-abortion ministry. As a woman who has had an abortion, Nancy warned that there is a persistent push by the Administration to expand abortion under the guise of “preventive health care” for women.
Kreuzer further noted that the HHS Mandate “opens the door for funding of abortion on demand which would only open the door to more pain and anguish.”
Elizabeth Kirk, a board member of the organization Conscience Cause and a visiting scholar at the Center for Ethics & Culture at the University of Notre Dame, was the next speaker. In her speech, Kirk noted that the United States “has a history of erring on the side of the utmost protection for religious and moral consciences” — and that the HHS Mandate flies in the face of this tradition.
The next speaker was pro-life blogger extraordinaire Jill Stanek, who shared her personal story of happening upon a late-abortion as a registered nurse at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, and of holding a tiny abortion survivor for 45 minutes until he died. Jill then noted that the only reason she ended up in that situation is that the hospital violated her rights of conscience from her very first interview by never telling her it was involved in abortion.
Swing dancing flash mob a huge hit
What happened next came as quite a surprise to the audience. Directly following Jill’s speech, the West End Jazz Band began to play, and hundreds of teens and young adults converged as a flash mob on an already crowded Federal Plaza carrying huge clusters of yellow balloons and began swing dancing.
Following this, Eric Scheidler explained that the purpose of the flash mob was to “swing public opinion,” because in less than a year, “we won’t have this kind of freedom.”
The swing dancing flash mob was a big hit with the crowd, and Eric asked the band to play another song for an encore.
Rally Participants Receive Action Items
To close out the Rally, Eric Scheidler gave the Rally participants their Action Items, 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.
Following the closing prayer led by Fr. Michael McGovern of St. Mary’s Parish in Lake Forest, Illinois, the rally formally concluded with the singing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic — followed by more music and swing dancing.
Clearly, the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom’s flagship event in Chicago was a great success.