March 30, 2012

Hundreds gather in rain for religious freedom rally

Father John Hollowell, left, chaplain of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis and associate pastor of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, speaks on March 23 during the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally on the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father John Hollowell, left, chaplain of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis and associate pastor of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, speaks on March 23 during the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally on the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher) Click for a larger version.

By Sean Gallagher

A steady rain didn’t deter about 700 people from across central Indiana who came to “stand up for religious freedom” on the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis on March 23.

Right to Life of Indianapolis organized the city’s “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally, which was repeated in about 140 other cities across the country on the same day.

A coalition of pro-life organizations sponsored the rallies in response to the mandate of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that nearly all employers must provide free coverage for abortifacients, sterilizations and contraceptives even if they are in conscience opposed to these medicines or procedures. (Learn more about religious freedoms here)

Religious and civic leaders as well as citizens spoke under a tent placed near the south steps of the Statehouse.

They were welcomed by Marc Tuttle, president of Right to Life of Indianapolis.

“This is a historic day for a couple of reasons,” Tuttle explained at the start of the rally. “We are just one of 140 cities across the country that are simultaneously having these rallies to stand up for religious freedom. But sadly, it’s a historic day because we have to have this rally.”

Father John Hollowell, chaplain of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis and associate pastor of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, offered a prayer then delivered the rally’s first speech.

He reflected on the fact that the Declaration of Independence said people are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.

“It’s important to note that the Founding Fathers saw these rights and freedoms as things given to each person by their Creator,” Father Hollowell said. “There’s a very dangerous notion that has begun to creep into our vocabulary in this country. And that is—some [people] are beginning to suggest that the rights that we have are given to us by the federal government or the state government or some other government.

“That is flat wrong. And our Founding Fathers never suggested such rubbish. Rights and freedoms come from one place. They come from our Creator.”

Father Hollowell also reflected on how the Bill of Right’s First Amendment guarantees that Congress would not pass a law which prohibited the “free exercise” of religion.

“We are hearing the dangerous phrase ‘freedom of worship’ more and more from some of our politicians as if religious beliefs are only to be on display behind the closed doors of churches and mosques and synagogues,” he said. “We already have a word for people who only practice their faith behind church doors. That word is ‘hypocrite.’ ”

Father Hollowell then encouraged his listeners who oppose the HHS mandate to let their voices be heard.

“I have a say. And you have a say. And we all have a say,” Father Hollowell emphasized as the crowd at the rally applauded. “And, despite the fact that some would try to take that say away from me and you, I’m going to keep saying my say until they cart me off to jail.

“And I say this, ‘Enough.’ The government is supposed to be protecting the rights that have been given to me by God, not swallowing them up.”

Maria Novak had her say after Father Hollowell. A member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, Novak, 27, is married and works as an architect.

She told the rally attendees that she and others like her accept the Church’s teaching on contraception.

“There are many people in our country who believe that people like me don’t exist,” Novak said. “I’m here to tell you that we do exist.

“I didn’t need contraception to be where I am today. I hope that I don’t fit the stereotype of a woman stuck in the Dark Ages.”

Novak later questioned the notion that those who oppose the HHS mandate are waging a war against women.

“We must pray for our country, for our leaders, especially President [Barack] Obama, [HHS Secretary] Kathleen Sebelius, and all those men and women who wrongly believe that this is a war waged on women when, in reality, it is a war waged on religious freedom,” Novak said. “This is not a time for placating words and niceties. This is a time of strong resolve, courage, and sacrifice of time and strength until we see these rights restored.”

Although much attention has been focused on the Catholic Church during the public debate regarding the HHS mandate, a majority of the speakers at the Indianapolis rally were not Catholic.

They included Yaqub Masih, pastor of Abundant Life International Church in Indianapolis.

“I’m so proud that the Catholic Church took a stand and has spoken against this [mandate],” Masih said. “Psalm 11, verse 3, says that if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

“ … This Health and Human Services mandate is stepping on the religious beliefs of God’s people. We forget that the foundation of this nation is based upon religious liberty.”

Masih pointed out that in the coming days the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in a case questioning the constitutionality of the health care reform act that ultimately brought forth the HHS mandate.

“We need to pray. If you can fast, fast and pray,” Masih said. “And cry out to the Lord that he would have mercy upon our nation, and that he would give wisdom and understanding to these judges that they may make the right decision.” †

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