Californians rally against contraception mandate
By Gibbons J. Cooney
Special to California Catholic Daily
Hundreds of Californians joined their counterparts at more than 140 locations nationwide on Friday, March 23, at “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies held to protest the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate. Across the country, more than 50,000 people participated in the protests.
In San Francisco, the rally was held in the city’s Federal Building Plaza. By 11:15 a.m., 100 people had already gathered in anticipation of the noontime rally. By 11:30, the number had swelled to 200. By noon the plaza was about two-thirds full, with a crowd estimated at between 500 to 1000 people.
The crowd included priests, nuns, religious brothers, as well as at least 50 children, from stroller age to high schoolers in Catholic school uniforms.
Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone was among the speakers at the San Francisco rally. He described the HHS mandate not as a Catholic or Christian issue, nor as one affecting just people of faith, but as an issue that affects all Americans.
The bishop related a conversation he had with his mother about the mandate. She told him, “This (religious freedom) is what the pilgrims came to this country for!”
“If my 85 year-old mother, who never went to college, can understand this, why is it so hard for our elected officials?” asked Bishop Cordileone.
“How dare the government define for us what constitutes our religious faith,” he said. “Get the government out of our church!”
George Wesolek, director of Public Policy and spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, began by describing an order of religious sisters who came to San Francisco in the late 1800s. He recalled that they founded orphanages, began institutions to minister to the sick, and schools to educate the young. He then observed that, according to the mandate, those activities would no longer be considered religious expression.
“That is not a religious expression? Unbelievable!” he said.
As Wesolek enumerated the objections to the mandate, he paused at the end of each statement as the crowd shouted with him, “Unbelievable!”
“Mr. Obama, let Christians practice their faith as they see fit… we will not be confined to the churches,” Wesolek said in closing. “That is not our mission!”
Even the normally soft-spoken Bill May, president of Catholics for the Common Good, led the crowd in a chant. He related how medical schools, because of legalized abortion, have removed the section of the Hippocratic Oath that says, “First, do no harm.”
“This (the mandate) causes harm… don’t force us to do harm!” May said.
To each of May’s statements the crowd responded, “We will not do harm!”
Dolores Meehan, co-founder of the Walk for Life West Coast, began by saying, “I’m here with my rosary, and I’m here with my ovaries, and I’m here to tell you I’m not leaving either of them at home!”
“Women will not be used to further your agenda… Mr. Obama, what women need is for you to uphold your oath of office,” Meehan continued. “What women need is for you to abide by the constitution. And then you know what? We’ll be able to take care of ourselves.”
“You (President Obama) are trying to take our basic rights away by executive order,” said Meehan. “Well, come and get us. Game on. Send you National Guard to close down our primary schools, our clinics, our hospitals, our universities. The answer is a simple: No! No man in the White House, no man in the Kremlin, no Chairman Mao, no Fidel Castro, no Barack Obama can take these rights away.”
Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, of Ignatius Press, was the final speaker. He told the crowd that, when Obama was elected, “some people thought they were voting for a Messiah.”
“Last month, he performed a true miracle,” Fr. Fessio said. “He united all of the Catholic bishops in the U.S.”
Six or seven protestors attempted to disrupt the rally, but the SFPD and the Department of Homeland Security moved them to the margins of the rally. The protesters began the old “Not the church, not the state…” chant, but were drowned out by rally participants singing the Ave Maria.
Five hundred miles to the south, San Diego Coadjutor Bishop Cirilo Flores was among the speakers at a similar rally outside the San Diego County Administration Building.
News accounts said the San Diego rally drew “hundreds of demonstrators,” but no specific tally was given.
Participants at the San Diego carried various signs and placards, with slogans like “Stop bigotry against Christians,” “My conscience belongs to God not the government,” Respect My Religious Freedom,” “Religious Freedom Is Our Right,” and “Protect Our First Amendment-Religious Freedom.”
“Thousands and thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics, people of faith and of no faith, have gathered to express opposition to the government trying to define religion,” Bishop Flores told KGTV-Channel 10 News, the local ABC affiliate.
Elsewhere in California, “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies were held in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Ventura, Redding and Temecula.
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