TOLEDO—During a rally Friday in Toledo Bishop Leonard P. Blair called on people to remain vigilant in fighting for religious freedom.
The bishop was one of several speakers at the rally in downtown Friday opposing the recent Health and Human Services mandate that requires employers to provide contraception and abortifacients in their health care plans.
A Toledo rally for religious freedom March 23 was one of 140 nationwide. Speakers called for continued efforts to change the Health and Human Services mandate. (Chronicle photo by Andrea Slivka)
The local rally was part of a nationwide grassroots movement with rallies hosted at 140 cities nationwide. In Ohio, rallies were also held in Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus. Twenty-two bishops were scheduled to speak at nationwide rallies, according to the national organizer’s website, www.standupforreligiousfreedom.com.
During his talk, Bishop Blair quoted Thomas Jefferson in saying, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
Religious institutions aren’t asking for an exception but demanding their religious right, Bishop Blair added.
He noted the mandate is “not about the church wanting to force anybody to do anything. Instead, it’s about the federal government trying to force the church to act against church teaching.”
The struggle for religious freedom is not new with the mandate, he added. He referenced a case in New Jersey in which nursing students are suing a state-run medical center for trying to force them to participate in abortions. In California, he said, a government department tried to require Catholic health care systems to provide insurance coverage for abortions.
Bishop Blair also referred to the Gospel teaching to repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. While people must pray for government officials and be good citizens, “Caesar must stay clear of the higher obedience that belongs to God alone,” he said.
Brian Burke, a University of Toledo medical student, told the crowd that the fight against the mandate is very important to him as a medical student.
“The government is mandating that we cover a medication and procedure that destroys a healthy physiologic state and we are supposed to call this preventative care,” he said.
He questioned whether the mandate may lead to a requirement for doctors and hospitals to perform sterilizations and to prescribe contraception against their beliefs.
Mother Cecilia Mary Sartorius, local superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor, also spoke at the rally. She said the mandate exemption is too narrow, noting the sisters serve and employ people of all religious faiths.
“We, as Little Sisters, have no intention of changing our mission or our way we carry it out,” she said. “We are Catholic, yes, but we take care of the elderly poor of all faiths, religions and cultures.”
Barbara Shaffer traveled from Waterville to participate in the rally.
“I just felt like I had to. I had to do something. You feel so powerless sometimes against the government,” she said, adding she fears the mandate is the beginning of a slippery slope.
Tammy Kalis of Woodhaven, Mich., homeschools her children and brought them to the rally. She wanted to teach her children to stand up for their rights and their faith, she said.
Monica Martinez, diocesan director of marriage and family life, told rally participants that while members of the government and media are framing the mandate as a defense of women, they are “turning their backs” on women who feel their religious freedom is being violated.
She also noted that providing easy access to contraception leads to an increase in the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions.
During the rally, Orthodox priest Father Mark Hodges of Lima read a letter from the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America voicing their support for the U.S. Catholic bishops in the fight against the mandate. The statement encouraged Orthodox Christians to contact their legislative representatives to express their concerns about the mandate.
“The Orthodox Church stands arm in arm with our Catholic friends and all those of faith,” Fr. Hodges said.
At the end of the rally, event organizer Kris Learned, Annunciation Radio office manager, encouraged participants to take further action by praying and fasting for change and to learn more about the issue. She referred participants to www.StopHHS.com and the websites for Annunciation Radio, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Diocese of Toledo.
Robert Peiffer, a Walbridge St. Jerome parishioner, said he has contacted congressmen to express his disagreement with the mandate and said people have to keep fighting until it is changed.
“I imagine our forefathers who founded this country would really be appalled at what they’re trying to do,” he said, noting many came to America for religious freedom. “They’d be rolling over in their graves. They fought too hard for this stuff.”