Why we’re standing up for religious freedom

Alex Brandon AP Father Paul Schenck speaks during a rally for religious freedom organized in part by the Catholic Archdiocese … Continued

Alex Brandon


Father Paul Schenck speaks during a rally for religious freedom organized in part by the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia in front of Independence Hall, Friday, March 23, 2012, in Philadelphia. The rally was in objection to the Health and Human Service mandate that private health care cover women’s contraception.

Today I am joining thousands of people nationwide to rally. In cities all over the country, women and men are coming together to protest the federal government’s healthcare mandate that, if stands, will force religious institutions to pay for services they find objectionable.

It’s the much misunderstood contraceptive rule of the HHS mandate, which on January 20 was announced by Secretary Sebelius. I say much misunderstood because I hear pundits everywhere painting a wholly different picture than reality. I recently read that Angelica Huston publicly referred to the news as a return to the “Dark Ages.” 

Win McNamee


Protesters participate in a “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally in front of the Department of Health and Human Services March 23, 2012 in Washington, DC.

So allow me to walk you through the issue we’re rallying about today. The mandate states that religious institutions must cover free contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization in their healthcare to employees, even if the religious institutions object to those services in their religious beliefs. After much uproar by Catholic bishops and Catholic laypeople, both liberal and conservative, on February 10 President Obama offered what he called a compromise, mandating that the health insurance companies pay for these services for the religious institutions’ employees.  

But it wasn’t a compromise. Obama didn’t reach that decision after working the issue through with bishops or religious institutions. While some eager Catholic groups quickly responded that this was an acceptable compromise, most haven’t, including the bishops and countless Catholic lay people rallying today. 

Why? Because the federal government is still telling religious institutions to provide products and services they find objectionable, and this affront to religious liberty is unconstitutional. According to this compromise, religious institutions still have to pay for something against their conscience — the health insurance that covers free contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization. Adding one more step between the dealer and the goods doesn’t change the ultimate transaction that’s going on here. This sleight-of-hand maneuver didn’t fool all of us. And for the many rallying around the nation today, it offends us.

Access to contraception abounds in this country and nobody is restricting it! HHS is trying to force objecting employers to foot the bill for contraceptives, but this doesn’t change who can access it. Many people these days have quoted the questionable figure reported by the Guttmacher Institute that 98 percent of Catholic women in America use contraceptives, suggesting the church should change its views with the times. First of all, that doesn’t change the constitutional right of religious institutions to hold their principles, whether or not everyone agrees with them. But second, as Cathy Ruse has rightly pointed out, the high number shows exactly that there’s no problem accessing contraception in this country. Women in this country don’t seem to have any trouble paying for their lifestyle choices, and nobody’s getting in their way.

Derik Holtmann


A rosary a left is held in the hand of a walker during a “Rosary Walk” rally supporting religious freedom. Over 100 people from through out the Belleville Diocese participated in the walk and mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Belleville, Illinois.

And there are thousands of women who don’t appreciate being pitted in the middle of this religious-liberty debate. Twenty thousand and counting have signed the open letter to President Obama and Secretary Sebelius “Women Speak for Themselves.”

So why did the administration propose this rule? Why now? Some have suggested the president proposed this now to rally his base of voters on a popular issue, and considering the hype that’s resulted, they may be right. 

Whatever the reason, let’s call it what it is. The president and HHS have done nothing to serve women’s health with this mandate, since women still will have the same access to contraception they currently enjoy. What they’ve done is bully religious institutions and believers around the country into being mocked on television and in newspapers for their beliefs on sexual ethics. 

This won’t be the first time Christians were mocked and misunderstood. Look at Jesus. It’s really a Lenten moment in our nation. Bullied though we may be, we will not back down. We will not roll over and be trampled for our beliefs. 

I am rallying today because I am proud to stand with the Catholic Church and her teachings on sex, marriage, and family life — teachings that don’t include room for contraception. But the church doesn’t impose these beliefs on anyone; she simply proposes them to people who seek them — people like myself, who should be free to seek them and believe them.

The one imposing beliefs here is the government, seeking to tell people what they can and cannot believe. Think about it: The government is mandating that religious institutions pay debilitating fines if they follow their beliefs and not pay for this objectionable coverage. 

Not everyone has to agree with these beliefs in question to see the problem here — the government has no right to say what a faith can and cannot believe. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience are protected in the Constitution for a reason. 

Dark Ages is right. The administration’s blatant affront to religious liberty, if not overturned, is a return to the very dark times that caused us to found our nation and write our own Constitution. 

Mary Rose Somarriba is chief operating officer of the Catholic Information Center and managing editor of Altcatholicah.

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  • Secular1

    Can someone tell me what are the basic moral grounds that prompt RCC to be against contraception. Or that is no longer needed? All it takes is the hierarchy decides and every body must fall in line? Is this really that intrusive for them? Does anyone think Mormons should be or should have been allowed to take on multiple wives? That was their dogma too till the federal government stopped it? How do the RCC defendants defend that intrusion into religion?

  • FreetoThink

    …the federal government is still telling religious institutions to provide products and services they find objectionable, and this affront to religious liberty is unconstitutional.

    Doesn’t this sound just like the argument that lunch counter owners used when denying service to African-American customers? They railed that the Federal government was interfering with their constitutional right to run their private businesses as they wished.

    The reality is that as long as religion sticks to religion, the Federal government leaves them alone. When religion runs businesses, they must abide by the regulations that pertain to those businesses. When religion employs people for non-religious work, they must abide by employment regulations. Why is this so hard for Mary Rose to understand?

  • amelia45

    Mary Rose Somarriba and the bishops won’t point out to you that most European countries today include contraceptives in their national health care schemes, and some way of subsidizing contraceptives for poor women. And yet, Catholic hospitals and Catholic Universities and Catholic charities function just fine in the midst of those government mandated “evils.”

    The government recognizing the importance of contraceptives is not new. The federal government has done so since 1970 and most states followed suit – 26 of them included a requirement that contraceptives be included in prescription drug benefits sold by insurers in their states.

    There is a good reason for that. It is because the availability of contraceptives is important to the “common good” of the people of this country. As important as clean water and roads. Every European country knows this – and the Catholic Church lost the battle in those countries.

    This is NOT NOT NOT about religious freedom. It is about religious tyranny – the tyranny of those who want the entire nation to embrace a particular religious viewpoint. Religious freedom resides in the individual making their own choices about birth control. Mary Rose Somarriba is one of those who would deny individuals the right of the individual to make their own choices.

  • Bluefish2012

    Umm. No.

  • Bluefish2012

    Read and understand “Humanae Vitae.” Vatican website.

  • Bluefish2012

    I’m floored by the numbers of people–Catholic and non- –who have never prayerfully read Humanae Vitae with an open mind and at least tried to understand the position they oppose so stridently.

  • longjohns

    But Mary Rose why are you going against the teaching of what is in the Bible???

    “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” 1 Timothy 2:12

  • ccnl1

    From a website on immunology:

    “WI-38 came from lung cells from a female fetus of 3-months gestation and MRC-5 was developed from lung cells from a 14-week-old male fetus. Both fetuses were intentionally aborted, but neither was aborted for the purpose of obtaining diploid cells.123. The fetal tissues that eventually became WI-38 and the MRC-5 cell cultures were removed from fetuses that were dead. The cellular biologists who made the cell cultures did not induce the abortions.

    These two cell strains have been growing under laboratory conditions for more than 35 years. The cells are merely the biological system in which the viruses are grown. These cell strains do not and cannot form a complete organism and do not constitute a potential human being. The cells reproduce themselves, so there is no need to abort additional fetuses to sustain the culture supply. Viruses are collected from the diploid cell cultures and then processed further to produce the vaccine itself.

    The WI-38 and MRC-5 cell cultures have been used to prepare hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines, preventing millions of cases of rubella, hepatitis A, varicella and rabies. In the United States, only one of these diseases can be prevented with an FDA-licensed vaccine not grown in human diploid cells. This is the RabAvert brand of rabies vaccine manufactured by Chiron Corporation.4

    Some of the vaccines that are produced in human diploid cells might now be able to be prepared in alternative types of cell cultures. Some of these cell cultures were not available or were not considered suitable for use in vaccines when the original vaccines were developed. However, there is no guarantee that vaccines grown in these alternative cell lines would be as safe and effective as currently licensed vaccines and development is likely to be extremely costly. Thus, there is little incentive for vaccine manufacturers to develop and test new vaccines when an existing licensed vaccine is known to be both safe and effec

  • Carstonio

    There’s simply no basis for deeming contraception to be *objectively* wrong or immoral. To hear the arguments against the contraception coverage, one would assume that employers are being forced to finance slavery or apartheid. But an individual’s or couple’s use of contraception shouldn’t be subject to others’ disapproval of the first place, because that’s private behavior that hurts no one.

    This works both ways. If an individual or couple believes that it’s wrong for *them* to use contraception, this stops with them and likewise isn’t anyone else’s business either.

    Part of the cost of living in a multi-religious society with a secular government is that one’s money will sooner or later support things that go against one’s beliefs for one’s own life. Treating this as a religious freedom issue wrongly implies that religious freedom is really about the freedom to live in a society that reflects one’s beliefs. All one should really do here is to follow one’s own beliefs about contraception and take a neutral position on its use by others.

  • TheShark1

    I asume that you also agree that a staunch catholic (or any other religion) pharmacist, for example, deny filling out prescriptions due to his/her religious beliefs?

    I can visualize it now: “Oh, I’m sorry madam, but I cannot fill your prescriptions on my own moral grounds, because some old “infallible” man, who is out of touch with reality tells me it’s immoral.”

    Fact is, freedom of religion means that you may practice whatever religion you want. But your religion does not go above the law created by, you guessed it, MAN. It is our law the one that establishes civility and morality. (God’s law is the one that has had been creating rifts among people for ages).

    You don’t want contraceptives? Fine, don’t use them.

  • ccnl1



    Religious freedom does not free you from learning about basic contraception and STD protection .

    The reality of contraception and STD control: – from a guy who enjoys intelligent se-x-

    Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. …

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

    : The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    “Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    “Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here’s a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active “post-teeners”: Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.


  • RickWatcher

    So many on the left refuse to see truth and reason in this issue. It is not an attack on women, it is an attack on right of conscience. Our founders considered right of conscience our choicest priviledge and a self evident truth, as stated by James Madison, writer of the Costitution, on Juned 8, 1789 and the left is trying to destroy the right of conscience with this mandate. If this right is taken no right can be protected, then where will you turn for help when government comes after something you hold dear.
    Contrary to the belief of many on the left, government is not God and does not hand out rights. Our rights are given by God, as stated in the Declaration, and while they can be taken by a government and people who have turned their backs on Him it will not change this truth. and doing so will only bring about death and destruction to all.
    To partially quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must stand for what is neither safe, politic, or popular but simply because it is right.”
    When our God given freedoms are being attacked by the godless it is time to stand for what is right.
    Wake up America before it’s too late!

  • Catken1

    When your employer tells you that you cannot have another child covered by health insurance because they have a religious objection to overbreeding, then you’ll whine that they’re interfering with your God-given rights. (And your extra child costs us all more to insure, whereas contraception provided by insurance saves us all money.)

    When you go bankrupt paying for the lifesaving care you or your family member needed after an accident, because your employer is a Jehovah’s Witness and chose not to cover blood transfusions in your medical insurance, you’ll whine that they’re taking away your right to life.

    When your Jewish employer docks your pay because you purchase pork and they don’t want to have to pay for unkosher food, even indirectly, then you will complain that your freedoms are being attacked.

    But when government seeks to protect the right of women to choose how to spend their fairly earned compensation, and to deny the Catholic Church the right to make all of us pay EXTRA so that they can push their religious beliefs on unwilling employees (because plans without contraception cost insurance companies MORE than plans with, and they spread the costs around to EVERYONE insured by that company), you wail and whine that your right to tell other people how to live and how to spend their compensation has been taken away.

    Government isn’t “going after” employers’ religious rights, because employers do not have the right to restrict what employees may use their freely-earned compensation on, nor may they get exemptions from reasonable laws applying to all public businesses, designed to spread costs and save all of us money, because they’re “religious” and therefore “special.” Government is not forcing one woman to buy contraceptives or to use them – they are simply saying that the Catholic Church may not discriminate in its compensation against women who do use contraceptives, or force the rest of us to pay more to support its taboos. The Church is entitled to use rea

  • Catken1

    I’m floored by the number of people who believe that it’s OK to co-opt a woman’s body in the name of “preserving life” with it, for nine full months of occupation and use, at great cost to her, but don’t feel the need to legally require a man to provide so little as a pint of blood to his own innocent child.

    Tell you what. I’ll “prayerfully” and “with an open mind” consider the possibility that I, in order to have a normal marital sex life, should consider myself the subhuman property of any child implanted in me (even by rape), to be used again and again to support more important lives with no consideration whatsoever of the cost to me or my existing family until I break, and like a broken subhuman tool, can be thrown away like trash. Then you “prayerfully” and “with an open mind” consider the position that a pregnant woman remains a full human being and the owner of her internal organs. How about it?

  • FreetoThink

    Sorry, RickWatcher, the Supreme Court does not agree with you. In a 1990 decision they wrote ” When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” The author of that majority opinion in 1990 was Justice Antonin Scalia, who added: “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

    When religions run businesses, they must obey the laws that pertain to those businesses. I don’t think Justice Scalia could be accused of having turned back on Him. I don’t think we’re headed for “death and destruction for all.” Tone down the drama.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    A simple misconstruction of categories. You are talking about the right of idiocy, Rick. Americans are uniquely attached to their right to maintain opinions that are rooted in a very animalistic, tribalistic brand of stupidity, and as Voltaire would agree, I will fight to the death for your freedom to be deluded. Don’t cloud this debate any further by pretending it concerns the right of conscience, when in fact it is the beginning of a long national conversation over how imbecilic we will allow American christians to remain as we continue into the 21st century.

  • Bluefish2012

    It’s about religious freedom, not about artificial contraception per se. Why is that so hard to understand? No one is forcing anyone to do–or not do–anything.

  • Bluefish2012

    From Catholic point of view there are a couple of ways to look at this: In the Church there is an *official* teaching function that is reserved to priests only, who are all male–similar to the functions of saying Mass and hearing confessions.

    But in another sense, Timothy’s exhortation is a disciplinary statement–not an intrinsically moral one. Similar to Paul’s rule about women covering their heads in Church. In another age and time the rules made sense. Those kinds of rules–like eating meat or not on Friday, etc. are changeable. Not a big deal unless you interpret the Bible in an unyielding and literal manner.

  • usapdx

    All Americans can prtice or not pratice a religion. No person can take a right from a American. The supreme law of America is the Constitution which is by WE THE PEOPLE, not by any religion what so ever. Conscience is only a human thought.

  • Carstonio

    Bluefish, employers do have the freedom not to use contraception in their private lives. They don’t have the freedom to use their power to deny contraception to employees. Or to coerce the employees to use contraception. One person’s religious freedom ends at the point where another’s begins. Benefits are another form of compensation in terms of the decisions on how to spend these being the employee’s, not the employer’s.

    One point that gets lost here is that numerous Catholic organizations do provide contraception coverage and have done so for years, and that many states already have this mandate. The bishops’ claim that they’re protecting the consciences of their religion’s employers is disingenuous at best – they shouldn’t be trusted to act as spokespersons for those organizations.

  • Bluefish2012

    Bilge. We are talking about the freedom *employers* should have to follow their consciences. Again, no one is preventing employees who don’t buy that position to obtain BC on their own. *Employers* however, are being forced to do something they do not believe in.

    And please don’t compare it to forms of medical care other religions object to. Artificial birth control to prevent a healthy conception is not medical care. There is no comparison to forms of care other religions don’t believe should be allowed. Things like blood transfusions are demonstrably life-saving.

    How on earth is it a “freedom” to force an employer to do something they don’t believe in? Why isn’t this the same principle the USSC confirmed (9-0!) in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEO?

  • Bluefish2012

    And that Constitution requires Government to butt out of defining religions.

  • Carstonio

    Controlling fertility *is* medical care. There’s no valid moral distinction between contraception use to prevent healthy conception and its other uses such as hormone regulation. Arguing otherwise amounts to wrongly shaming women for wanting to have sex without wanting to be mothers. Once an employer puts money into a benefits plan, morally that’s no longer his money, partly because the employees also contribute. So by definition this money isn’t under the employer’s conscience. The employer is wrong in believing that he’s somehow enabling employees to have non-procreative sex, something which isn’t objectively immoral in any case. This is no different than an employer who morally objects to alcohol and pays his employees only in gift cards that are redeemable in stores that don’t sell alcohol.

  • htnrnnr

    Catken1: The HHS mandate has nothing to do with someone requiring you to conceive, bear, and raise children. Unless you are writing from somewhere outside the U.S., you are free to go and purchase whatever contraceptives you want. No one is stopping you.

    However, the new HHS mandate requires others to pay for your contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

    You apparently want to force me to purchase contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs for anyone who wants them.

    But I’m no more restricting your access to contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs by not paying for them than you are restricting my access to the food I need every day by your not paying for my food.

    If I have mischaracterized your views and you do indeed want to pay for our food, my wife and I, our two children, and my wife’s elderly mother will need at least $500 a month to eat adequately. And that’s not going to include any restaurants or other fancy stuff. So our food will only cost you $6000 a year.

    Once I receive your check, I will send you a check for your reasonable costs for contraceptives for the year. As it turns out, though, we’ll also need clothing, heat for our home, and water. That’s going to add up, but I’m sure you won’t mind paying for it because we need food, clothing, heat, and water in order to live.

    In short, you think that by expecting you to pay for your own contraceptives I am forcing you to conceive and raise children for years to come and at great cost to yourself.

    Using your own questionable rationale, I think that by expecting my family and me to pay for our own food you are sentencing us to a slow, painful death of starvation.

    When you take moral responsibility for that and begin paying what it costs to keep us from starving to death, then I will begin taking your argument seriously.

  • Vegdaze_

    This is why we need universal healthcare–so every man, woman, and child has equal access to the services they need. Your employer should not be able to choose what and what is not made available to you.

  • SarahClise

    “…to deny the Catholic Church the right to make all of us pay EXTRA so that they can push their religious beliefs on unwilling employees…”

    Suggestion: Don’t work for an organization (i.e. The Catholic Church) when you don’t agree with their fundamental mission. The beauty here is that no one in the Catholic Church forces their employees to work for them. The employees make the choice themselves to fill out an application. Don’t work for a place where you think they’re “lost in the Dark Ages.”

    Wouldn’t that solve all the problems? That way, you can avoid your feared “extra child costs us all more to insure, whereas contraception provided by insurance saves us all money.” (IS HUMAN LIFE MEASURED IN DOLLAR $IGN$??? SICK SICK SICK).

  • nkri401

    Ms. Somarriba,

    “Dark Ages is right.”

    Do you know your churches history at all?

    The “Dark Ages” were when the Christina Church tortured so called “heretics” by ripping women’s breast and crushing men’s scrotum.

    Religious freedom? What is that? A right to repeat the “Dark Ages”?

  • leibowde84

    Part of living in this country is supporting things, financiallly, that you find objecitonable. Why do religious beliefs counter secular ones?? Because they have lobbyists in washington. There are plenty of religious people out there who find any kind of medical treatment objectionable. Should those people not be forced to provide their employees with health insurance at all?! Of course not, but when the Catholic Church is under attack, people listen. They are an interest group and nothing more. The choice should always be up to the employee … never the employer. Suck it up, and don’t feel bad. Unless you are using the contraception, you aren’t doing anything wrong.

  • wolfeja

    First, let’s recognize that there is a real conflict of ideals here. However, Ms Somarriba makes the same mistake as all who support the Church in this issue by refering to ‘religious institutions’. Religious institutions, e.g., churches, temples, seminaries, etc., ARE already exempt from providing these services. What is at issue are institutions that perform non-religious services and employ non-members of the church that happen to be owned by a religious institution. Often, these institutions compete directly with other private and commercial enterprises with significant competitive advantages. In short, these are SECULAR institutions that are owned by the church. Ms. Somarriba is correct is that this is an issue about religious liberty. However, it is the church trying to impose its dogma on unwilling employees that endangers religious liberty. Personally, I’d rather insurance NOT pay for normal, expectable maintenance procedures and medicines so that I can count on the insurance being there for catastrophic illness and injury. But, that is a different argument. So long as the church operates SECULAR institutions with non-member employees, it should follow the same rules as any other business in those markets.

  • borduin

    Why in the world should I or any non Catholic read Humanae Vitae? We have no obligation to understand the Catholic church’s theological beliefs. The church exists within a in a diverse democracy, employing people for secular purposes – education and healthcare. They need to follow the laws that all employers must follow. Truly if they cannot do that, they should stop running those secular businesses.

  • Bluefish2012

    borduin, please see Hosanna-Tabor v. EEO on the rights of religious employers. USSC vote = 9-0.

  • Bluefish2012

    No moral distinction? Shaming women? Will you say *anything*, however illogical, to support your case?