Nationwide rallies aim to inspire tea party-like movement for religious freedom

Michael Volpe Contributor
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CHICAGO — If proponents of religious liberty have their way, March 23 will mark the beginning of a tea party-like grassroots movement.

More than one hundred cities are expected to host rallies Friday against the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate requiring employers, including those with religious objections, to provide health insurance plans that cover free birth control.

The organizers hope to inspire a nationwide movement championing “religious liberty.”

Rallies are planned for Portland, Maine, Anchorage, Alaska, and many locations in between. Larger rallies are expected in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and Detroit. Smaller rallies are planned for far-off places like Howell, Michigan, Murrietta, California and Goshen, New York.

The rallies are being organized by a coalition of anti-abortion and pro-religious liberty groups, including the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society.

In an interview with The Daily Caller, one of the primary organizers, Eric Scheidler, said the events will focus on the insurance mandate. “We have the federal government trying to define religious freedom,” he complained.

“The core issue is the issue of religious freedom,” said Scheidler. “What we have here is the Obama administration is trying to define down religion only to the freedom of worship. The religious exemption provided is so narrow that even Jesus and the Apostles wouldn’t qualify.”

TheDC reached out to a number of groups on the other side of the issue — include NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the Chicago Abortion Fund and the Chicago Foundation for Women — but none would agree to an interview.

Scheidler said that when the story was first reported, media outlets focused disproportionally on birth control, and largely ignored religious liberty concerns. Scheidler hopes that the rallies will help re-frame the issue away from contraception.

The Chicago Women’s Fund’s director of development and communications, Emily Dreke, tersely declined an interview about the rallies. “Chicago Foundation for Women is not involved in the activities and we do not have anything to add at this time,” Dreke said.

In 2008 the Chicago Women’s Fund backed Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in her fight against the Bush administration’s Department of Health and Human Services. In that case, HHS wanted to mandate a “conscience clause,” which would allow all hospital employees to opt out of procedures they find morally objectionable.

Scheidler told TheDC that he hopes this week’s rallies will accomplish two things: dispel the perception that those fighting against the HHS mandate are anti-women and kick off a nationwide movement that will be a force in the November elections.

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Michael Volpe