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Rally for religious freedom in NYC
'This isn't about birth control. It's about government control.'
"Did you come to protest?"
"It's not a protest. It's a rally."
Actually, the Priests for Life Rally for Religious Freedom event felt at times like a religious service with multiple people giving their Testimony. And the crowd did sing "We Shall Overcome" and "Amazing Grace" at two breaks between speakers later in the rally.
We were standing near the steps of Federal Hall, the 1842 stone building erected on the Lower Manhattan site of the original building where Congress first met and passed The First Amendment, along with the rest of The Bill of Rights. This is the place PriestsforLife.org had decided to hold their New York rally to support their religious rights, specifically to resist the Obama administration's Health and Human Services Department attempt to force Catholic - and other religious groups - to pay for birth control through insurance coverage or other coercive means. There were 140 such rallies across the United States last Friday. Roughly one thousand people would soon show up under the large statue of George Washington that stands on a pedestal in the middle of the Federal Hall steps. A large Fox News white remote broadcast truck stood at the sidewalk to relay images of the events.
Leslie Palma-Simoneck and Janet Morana, both Directors at Priests for Life, stood on the sidewalk and told me, "This is about abortion, not contraception." In fact, people were there for both those issues as well as the event's official title issue, religious freedom.
Ms. Morana urged me to talk to the priests in the gray robes across the street, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Taking her advice, I interviewed Father Augustino Torres who would later act as a type of "master of ceremonies" and admit that his life was turned around by the Church.
Taking exception to a hedonist worldview, Father Augustino said to me on the street, "This event stands for Freedom of Conscience. We define freedom as loving responsibility like marriage. That makes us free."
Turning to the right, I found a cleric in the distinctive black hat of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was Rev. Father Joseph Gingrich, from the Saint Nicholas of Myra Church in New York's East Village. He had come to show his solidarity with the aims of this gathering.
The rally officially begin with an invocation by Monsignor Reilly of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants (of Brooklyn). There were no event microphones or electronic speakers, making the old fashioned talent of natural oratory a necessity. Msgr. Reilly was followed by Father Augustino Torres who urged the audience to "stand up for religious freedom" and "stop the HHS (Health and Human Services) mandate."
The first woman to speak was Dr. Ann Nolte, a physician and head of the Giana Center for Women's Health.
"Birth control is not healthcare. Pregnancy is not a disease. The Pill is on the World Health Organization's list of major carcinogens. Steroid hormones (in birth control pills) shut down (a woman's) natural cycle. Your doctors haven't been taught about natural family planning in medical school since the 1960s."
Dr. Nolte was giving a stemwinder of a speech and was nowhere near finished with her version of "J'accuse."
"There is no male pill. Do you think a man would take a pill that would shut down his libido? The Birth Control Industry is a multi-billion dollar business that doesn't care about your health, even when it fails. The government cares more about the money they get from the abortion and pharmaceutical industries."
Who could follow that? Melissa Moscella, a graduate student in Politics at Princeton and a Fellow at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, spoke next to advance the argument.
"The government wants to impose crippling fines (for our not paying for contraception). Who wants to work for an employer with no healthcare? Catholics and others will have to close their doors. What the government wants is unconstitutional."
"This isn't about birth control. It's about government control. If the federal government can force us to buy products against our conscience, what will they do next?"
A very good question, Ms. Moscella.
The next event was the reading of a message from Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life. Fr. Pavone said that "The unjust and unconstitutional mandate of this (coverage of birth control) will be defeated. It will not stand. It will be defeated because people of faith will suffer the consequences of fighting (for its defeat)."
Next, author and attorney Edward Mechmann read a statement from New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan which said in part,
"It is wonderful to see people of all faiths standing here for religious freedom. We will tirelessly stand to defend our religious liberty."
Janet Morana, Executive Director of Priests for Life and co-founder of http://silentnomoreawareness.org/ , then spoke about how, in her work, she "deals with women who are the failures of their birth controls."
Echoing Dr. Nolte's words, Ms. Morana said, "There is a lot in the media about not giving boys steroids. Birth control pills are steroids. Why don't we hear about that? Women suffer strokes, increased cancer rates, heart attacks (because of The Pill). We will go to jail before we comply with the Obama administration!"
Janet Morana's words were probably the first time a number of people in the audience heard these accusations from a doctor. I suspect she sent a few people in the crowd to internet libraries for verification.
The next speaker was one of the Executive Directors of Priests for Life, in charge of their African-American Outreach, Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King. Frankly, I had trouble hearing her soft spoken remarks from a distance. As best I could tell, they were general in tone.
The next speaker was New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx. His City web page describes him as a "community organizer," but one with a much more active career helping people. Dr. Cabrera has a PhD. in Counseling, has worked with drug addicts and, along with his wife, has started a church called the New Life Outreach Center International.
"I do not believe in abortion," Councilman Cabrera said. "Do not impose the government view on the people. We are going to be contentious. Let me tell you the Sleeping Giant has awoken!"
The next speaker surprised me with how animated he became. Christopher Bell, President of Good Counsel, an organization that places infants in homes, began his stemwinder.
"The Bill of Rights was passed here (at Federal Hall). For 221 years, we have been free until now to feed the hungry, shelter the poor. These inalienable rights have not been given by the State, but by God. Our government is not only bullying us but acting like a tyrant. This is unacceptable. This is America! Obama doesn't have to compromise. He has to respect our Freedom of Belief."
"No insurance company can allow conscientious objectors? Give to Washington what is Washington's. And give to God what is God's!"
The next speaker was Chris Slattery of Expectant Mother Care. He had managed the permit application with New York City for this event and told the crowd that he had applied for a permit for 50 people but now was looking out at over 500 people. He also spoke of Mayor Bloomberg's banning of prayers from the tenth anniversary commemoration of the attack on 9/11 at Ground Zero and how people had to set up an alternative site to pray for the victims. Taking the politics to a national level, he then said that Pres. Obama will be going after the "Protestants, the Muslims and the Jews next." Frankly, I disagree somewhat with Mr. Slattery. Obama has gone after the Protestants and Jews already. It was at this point that the crowd was lead in the singing of "We Shall Overcome" by Fr. Augustino Torres.
The last stemwinder was then delivered by the intense Pastor Bill Devlin of the Manhattan Bible Church.
"What is facing many women is a monstrosity of religious intolerance. Who's going to stand with us? We've now got Tim Tebow coming."
Talking of his own intense fight and sacrificial act of faith, Pastor Devlin continued.
"Mayor Bloomberg tried to throw 300 churches out of our school houses (on the weekends). We went up against the richest mayor in the U.S. My water fast from January 17th until February 29th lasted 42 days. (Near the end) the Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and said the churches can stay."
The rally broke up shortly after that. Maybe Pres. Obama and Sec. Catherine Sebelius think they can impose their "living constitution" ideas on these people, their friends and the people who rallied in 139 other cities across the country. But I wouldn't bet against those speakers on the Federal Hall steps - or at any other location across America. Obama will have to answer to God - and Brooklyn.
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