Pastor Tyrone Carter of Aphesis Apostolic Church pauses during his speech to 185 protesters while his wife Bernadette waves a pom pom outside St. James Anglican Cathedral in Fresno, California, for a noontime Stand Up For Religious Freedom protest rally Friday, June 8. (Photograph taken by John Rieping)
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 6/08/12 in The Madera Tribune
Thirteen new movies will premiere in U.S. theaters today (Friday), and about half will be rated R. “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” and other films will compete with “Men In Black 3,” “For Greater Glory,” and other incumbents.
But not all crowds will be at the cinema.
Some will be at St. James Anglican Cathedral, 4147 E. Dakota Ave., in Fresno and more than 150 other sites across the nation at Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies. Sixty-four thousand Christians and Jews attended similar events March 23.
The gatherings, unaffiliated with any political party or religion, have been organized to protest the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services requiring all employers, regardless of conscience objections, to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization through employee health plans.
The mandate enacts part of President Obama’s health care law.
Pastor Gary Comer of First Southern Baptist in Madera, Pastor Jim Franklin of Fresno’s Cornerstone Church, and others will speak at the nearby noontime rally.
They aren’t the only ones unhappy about government’s heavy hand. A CBS News Poll released Thursday found that 41 percent of U.S. adults want the entire health care law overturned when the Supreme Court decides on its constitutionality later this month. Another 27 percent want the law kept but the mandate overturned.
Less than a quarter of Americans polled last week want the whole law upheld.
Why is the mandate, in particular, a sore point in the attempt to reform our health care system?
“The very thought that big government is forcing Christians to pay for something they find egregious strikes at the core of our country’s religious freedom,” wrote Comer on the website Facebook.
Wasn’t that First Amendment conflict resolved when President Obama announced an “accommodation” Feb. 10 in which insurance companies would be forced to provide the controversial coverage for free?
The proposed compromise — though lauded by Democrats who initially opposed the mandate — never materialized. HHS finalized its unpopular rule March 12 with no alterations. Without inclusion in the rule, the accommodation is a legally unenforceable promise.
Even if it had been added, other problems remain.
First, the mandate goes farther than any existing state laws by including sterilization and eliminating existing alternatives for religious employers, such as dropping coverage or self-insuring. Religious groups that self-insure and religion-affiliated insurance companies would have to provide coverage they object to all the same.
Secondly, the HHS rule’s religious exemption is so narrow it would prevent religious ministries from serving those of other beliefs. Imagine the nation’s 600 Catholic health care institutions in the U.S. — 12 percent — only being allowed to treat Catholic patients.
Third, the mandate offers no conscience exemption at all to individual private employers.
Other parts of the health care law pose difficulties as well.
In violation of the Hyde Amendment, Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act includes taxpayer funding of insurance coverage that includes elective abortion. Those who oppose abortion for religious or moral reasons can’t opt out.
None of this is acceptable in a nation with a long tradition of freedom of religion.
“Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights,” wrote the Most Rev. Armando Ochoa, Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, earlier this year.
Ochoa asked that people of faith would commit “to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored.”
As Supreme Court justices debate among themselves about Obama’s health care law, Ochoa’s request and today’s protest rally — planned months ago — seem more timely than ever.
A joke tells of a little girl who felt ill while in the middle of a worship service at church.
“Mama,” she said, “can we leave now? I have to throw up!”
“Then go outside to the restrooms,” the mother replied.
A minute later, her daughter returned to the pew.
Her mother asked, “Did you throw up? How did get back from the bathrooms so quickly?”
“I didn’t have to go outside, Mama. They have a box near the front door that says, ‘For the Sick.’”
These days it almost seems as if the U.S. government wishes to imitate all of the generosity of that little girl but none of the innocence. What was meant to aid the sick will instead carry an unpleasant gift for people of faith.