Hundreds of protestors gathered in the Loop Oct. 20 to voice opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s Health and Human Services Mandate, which requires all employer health care plans, including some religious organizations, to provide female employees with free birth control, sterilization and emergency contraceptives.
Approximately 100 rallies were organized nationwide by the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Coalition. The rallies brought together religious advocates to speak against the mandate and explain why they believe it violates the rights of religiously inclined businesses and organizations.
About 1700 protestors marched from Federal Plaza, 230 S. Dearborn St., to Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washinton St. According to Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League who coordinated the rallies nationwide. The march was symbolic of the group’s ongoing struggle to spread awareness of the issue from the federal to the local level.
The protest featured a diverse group of speakers, including pastors, business owners and doctors who encouraged attendees to speak against the mandate by voting in this election.
“We need to take a stand and put an administration in office that is going to fight for our religious freedoms,” said speaker Angela Miceli, a political philosophy graduate student at Louisiana State University.
Miceli, who said she is currently working on a dissertation about freedom of conscience, encouraged rally-goers to be adamant about their position.
“We are people of faith who have no reason to fear or be ashamed of speaking and acting according to our faith,” she said. “I encourage you all to do just that in this upcoming election. Do not be afraid to take a stand for religious liberty.”
Pastor Erwin Lutzer of The Moody Church, 1635 N. LaSalle Drive, took his own stand for religious liberty and spoke of what he calls a growing “new tolerance” that prohibits religious advocates from exercising their rights.
He said this tolerance is trending today and causes people to “only emphasize part of the First Amendment, ignoring our religious rights and freedoms.”
Approximately 20 pro-choice advocates gathered around the rally in counter-protest. One protestor also cited the presidential election as a driving force behind pro-abortion rights advocates’ efforts.
“We are here to show our support for the HHS mandate,” said protestor Ashley Maroulis. “We are going to go to the polls to vote for an administration that will protect women’s rights to make their own decisions about their bodies.”
Speakers for both sides asserted it is within their power to change the mandate and that going to the polls on election day is crucial to their cause.
“We have a lot at stake here,” said Miceli. “I think the most important thing right now is to get people aware and get people educated about the issue so they can go to the polls and make an informed decision.”
The mandate means more to religious advocates than just the requirement to provide certain drugs, it also represents what many feel is a pattern of religious discrimination, according to Lutzer.
“[This mandate] violates our religious freedom,” Miceli said. “Alone, we can be ignored. But when we stand here today, we can resist, and our message cannot be ignored.”