Opponents of the so-called “HHS mandate” requiring health care plans to offer women access to free contraception rallied here and in cities across the country Saturday, weeks before Election Day as part of the Stand Up for Religious Freedom movement.
Locally, the group met downtown outside Buffalo’s new federal courthouse, where about 150 people, mostly Catholic, braved the cold wind and rain of Niagara Square to protest the Affordable Care Act provision.
Specifically, they called the Obama health care law’s requirement that contraception be covered in health policies a gross violation of the religious freedom of Catholic institutions that offer their employees health insurance, even though the administration has made an exemption and accommodation for those types of employers.
“We just wanted to show the nation and all the voters that we do care about our freedoms, and that’s so important,” said Rachel Ziarnowski, 17, a senior at Holy Angels Academy, who organized the Buffalo rally.
Speakers included Amy Betros, co-founder of St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy; Deacon Mike McKeating of Fourteen Holy Helpers Church; religious publisher Tracy Tremblay; Republican businessman Mike Madigan, who is running for Congress against Rep. Brian Higgins; and former East Aurora Mayor David DiPietro, who is running for Assembly.
When religious freedom and government policy clash, McKeating said, religious freedom should win.
“The government is seeking to confine us to our church buildings and to prohibit us from witnessing to our faith in the public square,” he told the crowd.
Madigan said the mandate is an example of government overreach and is an intrusion.
“We are a religious country,” he said. “We should not be forced to have our tax money spent on things that we’re morally and ethically opposed to.”
Supporters of the provision have said religious organizations have no right to interfere with their employees’ private health care coverage and are actually the ones infringing on the freedoms of their employees.
Hymns and prayers were sung throughout the hourlong demonstration by the crowd, most of whom held printed signs reading “Stop Obama’s HHS Mandate” and “Stand Up for Religious Freedom,” while a few held homemade signs with slogans such as “Stop his war on religious freedom.”
While there was much criticism aimed at President Obama and his health care overhaul, there was no mention of Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who – in a reversal of his previous position – said in Tuesday’s presidential debate, “Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.”
Eden resident Joe Gray, a parishioner of SS. Peter and Paul Church in Hamburg, attended the rally with his daughter Valerie, 14, and May, a Chinese foreign exchange student from Beijing who is staying with them.
On a day when a divisive political issue was at the forefront, Gray said he was just happy to celebrate the right to peacefully assemble.
“In [May’s] country, just to come out and do something like this, they would stop you,” he said. “They would come out with guns and break it up or arrest you.”