Detroit — Upwards of 1,000 people enthusiastically cheered when Fr. Stephen Pullis took the microphone in downtown Detroit with a simple but forceful message.
“We cannot give up, we cannot back down, and we cannot be silent,” he said to a roar.
Protesters hold signs denouncing the HHS mandate Friday afternoon in downtown Detroit.
Rally coverage from U.S. newspapers
Fr. Pullis, associate pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Lake Orion, was among the speakers to address a March 23 rally called to protest the Obama administration’s compulsory contraception coverage mandate.
“It’s not for our government to decide how we are to follow Jesus Christ. It’s not for our government to decide which tenets of our faith are to be followed and which are to be set aside,” he told the rally that had been organized by Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and supported by dozens of other groups, including Ave Maria Radio.
Both Catholic and Protestant speakers addressed the rally, which filled the plaza outside the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building. More than 140 other cities nationwide — including eight in Michigan — participated in simultaneous protests organized in response to the mandate.
People of faith must not be required to confine their exercise of that faith to their churches, synagogues or mosques, Fr. Pullis said, adding, “They have a right to bring that faith into the public square and allow that faith to shape their lives.”
Among the speakers at the rally were Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Michael Byrnes, popular WDEO/EWTN radio host Al Kresta, U.S. Senate hopeful Clark Durant and several Catholic and Protestant clergy. Dick Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center also addressed the boisterous gathering.
Bishop Byrnes quoted Matthew 25:31-46, and said the Catholic Church cannot turn its back on its social ministries, and is not about to start “checking people’s baptismal certificates” as a prerequisite to offering aid.
Fr. Gerard Battersby, who was at the rally with about 30 seminarians from Sacred Heart Major Seminary, said, “We don’t want to be ‘accommodated’ by the president; we have rights as citizens.
“We want the president to protect the Constitution of the United States,” said Fr. Battersby, the seminary’s vice rector and dean of formation.
One of the seminarians, Bro. John Rigsby, SOLT, in his first year of pre-theology, said, “We have to make people aware that religious freedom is being attacked, and we need to stand together for our religious freedom and uphold our constitutional values.”
At issue is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that all health insurance plans must include contraception coverage — including sterilization and abortifacient drugs — in order to comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
While the mandate does include a religious exemption, it is so narrow that it would apply only to houses of worship but not to religious-sponsored schools, hospitals or charities.
The religious exemption does not apply, for example, to Church institutions that employ or provide services to people of other faiths.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said it would be impossible for the Catholic Church to comply with the mandate in its original form, and it also rejected a modification that would require the coverage be provided free-of-charge by the insurance carrier, aware that the costs would still be passed on to the Church in the form of higher premiums.
The bishops have also pointed out that some Catholic institutions are self-insured, a provision not addressed by the administration’s “compromise.”
Maureen Butler, a freshman at Divine Child High School in Dearborn, said she was at the rally “to stand up for my faith.”
“If this goes through, I’m afraid my school will be shut down, and also it’s just unconstitutional. It’s not right, it’s not fair,” Butler said.
John MacDonald, a member of St. Nicholas of Myra (Byzantine) Parish, Clinton Township, called the HHS mandate “an abomination — it has to be stopped.”
Karen Licata, a member of St. Fabian Parish, Farmington Hills, had a similar disposition.
“I just believe in religious freedom,” she said. “I don’t believe we should have government telling our churches what to do.”
Jen Nelson, a member of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Wyandotte, attended the rally on crutches after having sprained her ankle the day before.
“If they really cared about women, they wouldn’t be pushing this, because hormonal birth control carries a very high risk of aggressive forms of breast cancer.”
Gino Vitale was distributing fliers at the rally urging people to fast one day a week and pray daily through the first week of November “that God’s will be done to restore the sanctity of human life and freedom of religion.”
“If you read the Old Testament, fasting and prayer can be very powerful,” said Vitale, a member of SS. Cyril & Methodius (Slovak) Parish in Sterling Heights.
Jernej Sustar, a seminarian originally from the former communist nation of Slovenia, said, “In my 12 years in this country,
I’m always saying you’re moving in the direction of what my country just rejected. I see the same trends.”
Comparing the mandate to the persecution of first-century Christians in the Roman Empire, he added, “They want us to burn incense to other gods.”