By Christopher M. Riggs The thousands gathered in Topeka last Friday had one message: We will not comply. Catholics from throughout Kansas nearly filled the lawn in front of the south steps of the Capitol during a religious freedom rally echoing by their presence the overriding message from the speakers that Catholics will not comply to federal health care mandates that would force them to act against their wills. The four bishops of the dioceses of Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback, and other church and political figures endured searing heat for the one and a half hours of speeches, prayer, and song. Abp. Joseph Naumann Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas lightened the sizzling mood when he said he would never aspire to any higher church office but added: “This would be a good day to be able to wear white, I think.” Abp. Naumann, speaking from a landing area on the south steps, said the Health and Human Services mandate that would require Catholics to go against their consciences may be the most egregious threat to religious liberty in the history of the United States.
“The reality is that we are gathered here today just to maintain the status quo, not to advance any agenda,” he said. “It is the administration who has chosen to pick this fight at this particular time. It is they who are waging a war against women and men of faith.” Abp. Naumann asked: Why was there no discussion of these mandates during the months of debate over healthcare reform? Why was none of this specified in more than 2,000 pages of legislative text? Does anyone believe that there really is a crisis regarding the availability of contraception? “The HHS mandates are not about availability of contraception,” he said. “They are about saying to the people of faith of this country that it’s not enough that you live in a culture where contraceptives are readily available, where tax dollars are already used to provide them, whether given out in some public schools to minors without parental permission. Now, we your government, are going to force you the Catholic Church – and any church or individual or person of faith who finds them morally offensive – to participate in their provision.” Every American should be outraged at this assault on religious freedom, Abp. Naumann said, because if the federal government can do this to Americans who believe contraception and abortion to be evil, what prevents the same government from coercing other Americans to violate their deeply held moral convictions on any other matter? “Let the cry go forth from Topeka, Kansas, to the president to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to the Congress, to the Supreme Court: We will not accept, we will not acquiesce, we will not tolerate liberties to be diminished or robbed from us! We will pray. We will advocate. We will vote. And we will never, never, never give up our religious liberty and our conscience rights!” Gov. Sam Brownback Gov. Sam Brownback, praised the archbishop for his leadership but joked: “I would point out he seems to pick the worst weather days. The Right to Life March is always the coldest day of the year and this is going to be close to the hottest. Maybe it just proves that we will not be stopped, the weather does not matter!” Looking over the crowd, the governor said the gathering was the largest rally he had ever seen on the south steps of the capitol and praised the efforts of those attending to defend the right to life. “I think I can safely say today that Kansas is a pro-life state and we’re not going back.” Gov. Brownback said one decision made in Washington, D.C., resulted in the thousands from across the state to gather. “Earlier this year, unfortunately, the Obama administration mandated that people of faith would have to violate their beliefs in order to fulfill a government objective. That is wrong! That violates our rights under the Bill of Rights and must not be allowed to happen!” Religious liberty is a part of who we are as Kansans and Americans, he said. “Our country was built on the values of freedom, first and foremost is we have the right to determine what we do with our own souls.” He reminded the rally-goers that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants Americans the right to practice their religion and to live according to their personal convictions without undue influence by the government. “Freedom is a gift from God,” Gov. Brownback said, “not a privilege that the government is entitled to take away. “This mandate against our freedom is not just a religious issue, this is the first line of the First Amendment. If they can take that away, what is safe? This unconscionable mandate must not be allowed to stand, and by your prayers and works it will not be allowed to stand! Keep fighting for as long as it takes!” Bishop Michael O. Jackels Bishop Michael O. Jackels told those attending that they gathered for their right to religious freedom, a freedom won by men and women who fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice. “But we know that there is something mightier than the sword, the pen,” he said. “And we will take up the pen to advocate with our elected representatives – even pester them – and to take up the pen to make an informed vote this November: If you’re not going to be with us we are not going to be with you!” He told the thousands fanning themselves in the heat with their programs that there is something mightier than the sword and the pen: prayer. Bishop Jackels then told the faithful about the Battle of Leponto, one of the greatest naval battles in world history. The victory in 1571 by Catholic naval forces over the much more numerous and powerful Muslim war fleet was attributed to Pope Pius V’s request for Christians to seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary by praying the rosary for victory. Had the Christians lost to the Turkish powers, Christianity and free societies in modern Europe might not have taken root. The Ottoman Turks forced those they conquered to convert. If they did not, they faced penalties and persecution. Cathy Ruse Cathy Ruse, senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council, Washington, D.C., also spoke at the rally reiterating the points made by the other speakers and suggesting that the hidden agenda behind the mandate is a pro-abortion mentality. In an interview before the rally, Ruse said there are four possible outcomes to HHS mandate: • One is compliance, she said, where Catholic institutions would violate their religious freedom in some cases violate God’s laws. • Another is where Catholic institutions would pay the fines and penalties leaving them with fewer precious resources to help the people they are helping. • The third is that they could close their doors because it doesn’t make sense for them to continue to pay the fines. • The fourth outcome could be civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is not out of the realm of possibility, she said.