On Friday, June 8 at San Francisco’s federal building, 700 citizens joined others in over 150 cities around the country in protesting the Obama administration’s assault on religious freedom.
The rally was organized by Walter Hoye and Joni Durling, of the California Civil Rights Foundation. Dana Cody of the Life Legal Defense Fund served as Mistress of Ceremonies. The event began with Francis Peterson singing the national anthem, but instead of the standard version, she chose to sing the seldom-heard last verse, with the lyrics:
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.
Speakers included Father Joseph Illo, of St. Joseph’s Parish in Modesto; Kevin McGarry of theFrederick Douglas Foundation; Marie Conway Stroughter of African American Conservatives; Eva Muntean of the Walk for Life West Coast; Chris Pareja, (who received more than 22 percent of the vote in California’s 13th congressional district on Tuesday); Victoria Evans, Respect Life Coordinator of the Archdiocese of San Francisco; Jennifer Halbeid, Esq., of The Becket Fund; Father Jeffrey Keyes of St. Edward’s Parish in Newark; Rochelle Conner, author of Does God Really Care About Politics: God and Government; Ana Banderas of Live Action; Gwen Patrick of the Sunago Christian Fellowship in Los Angeles; and Pastor Antoine Lamar Miller of Chosen Vessels Church in Alameda.
In addition to the San Francisco event, rallies were also held in Bakersfield, Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Redding, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Ana, Santa Maria, Temecula, Vallejo and Ventura.
In Sacramento, according to the diocesan website, Bishop Jaime Soto led a Eucharistic Procession and “Walk for Religious Freedom” through downtown on Saturday, June 9.
At the San Francisco rally, three themes recurred among all the speakers. First, as has happened many time before, Christians are now forced to defend religious freedom and the faith. It is not optional. We are at a crisis. Secondly, any assault on religious liberty is also an assault on America. Speakers quoted Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Dwight D. Eisenhower, California’s Supreme Court Justice Janice Brown, and even Mark Twain in support of this position. Thirdly, the HHS mandate has providentially created an unprecedented unity among people of all faiths. This point was underscored by the ecumenical list of speakers, evenly made up of Catholics and members of other Christian denominations.
The first speaker was Fr. Joseph Illo. He reminded the crowd that the very inscription on the Liberty Bell reads: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”—a direct quote from Leviticus. Fr. Illo said that God, not man, is the foundation of all human liberty, and noted that whenever religion is removed from the public square what follows is immorality, thievery, and corruption. Fr. Illo pointed to Russia, which is still attempting to recover from decades of communism: “When religious liberty is once lost, it takes a long time to recover.” When he asked the crowd “Will America relinquish that religious freedom without a struggle?” a thunderous “NO!” was the response.
Kevin McGarry was next. He said: “This is the remnant people that will change the trajectory of America! This is a providential moment, uniting all faiths: we shall have religious freedom! We are living out Galatians 3: 27-28. We are all united in God!” But McGarry also pointed out “there is an unfortunate fact that many people of faith are complicit…what we need to do is pray, vote, and vote God! Vote God 2012!”
Eva Muntean, co-chair of the Walk for Life West Coast related the story of her family’s escape from communist Hungary. She described the “free” healthcare in that country that practically killed her mother. She noted the medical danger of the contraceptives the HHS mandate pushes on American women. When she said “We don’t need more contraception—we need more morality” the crowd roared its approval. Muntean also mentioned the movie “For Greater Glory.” She quoted Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles who recently said “We need to ask for the strength to be Cristeros. By their dying, they show us what we should be living for.” She closed her speech by chanting with the crowd “Viva Cristo Rey!”
Chris Pareja, the pro-life candidate for congress in California’s 13th District, said “We are at a crossroads…Not long ago I did something politicians don’t do any more: I read legislation! I read the Affordable Care Act. I was so shocked and disgusted my wife would not let me discuss it in the house any more…it frightened the children!” He also had a message for religious leaders: “We need you to lead boldly…if you don’t the laity will lead from below. Warriors who won’t fight are a liability.”
While none of San Francisco’s Bishops were in attendance, Vicki Evans, Respect Life Coordiantor for the Archdiocese of San Francisco spoke.
“If we retreat today, tomorrow we will be giving in to abortion and euthanasia, and who knows what else,” said Evans, who fired up the crowd with the words from Lord of the Rings: ‘A day may come when the courage of men fails, but today is not that day!’”
Father Jeffrey Keyes, a member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, related the story of the order’s founder, St. Gaspar Del Bufalo. As a young priest, Fr. Gaspar lived at the time of the Napoleonic wars, when Pope Pius VII was imprisoned by Napoleon. At that time all priests under French rule were required to take an oath of allegiance to Napoleon. Fr. Gaspar’s superior apparently did not take the issue too seriously, according to Fr. Keyes. But Fr. Gaspar did. His famous response “I cannot. I must not. I will not!” became the chant of the day. Fr. Keyes asked the crowd “Can the American President define what is religion and how I should minister?” The crowd responded “I can not. I must not. I will not!” “The world health organization defines oral contraceptives as a Class 1 carcinogenic — and the President wants us to pay for them?” “I can not. I must not. I will not!” “In New Mexico, a photographer was fined because she refused to photograph a same-sex “marriage.” Is the government next going to tell us how to administer our own sacraments?” “I can not. I must not. I will not!”
The final speaker was the fiery Pastor Antoine Lamar Miller of Chosen Vessels Church in Alameda: “I am upset, my brothers and sisters…..I don’t want a nanny state…President Obama, stay the H E double hockey sticks out of my church! Let ME preach Christ while YOU preach government!” And Pastor Miller echoed Fr. Keyes, repeating the response of St. Gaspar: “I can not. I must not. I will not!”
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