Opponents of the Obama administration's federal mandate for health insurance coverage of contraceptives conducted dual rallies Friday in Omaha and Lincoln, condemning the policy as a violation of religious freedom.
In Lincoln, the Lincoln Diocese's Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz said “it's a realistic possibility” that Catholic schools, hospitals and social service agencies would close rather than comply with the policy.
“We will have no choice. We will have to follow our conscience,” Bruskewitz said.
Assistant Nebraska football coach Ron Brown was among the speakers who decried the mandate during an hourlong rally on the steps of the Federal Building in Lincoln. It was attended by nearly 600 people.
About 300 people attended a similar rally in Omaha at the Roman L. Hruska U.S. Courthouse. The crowd included Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas.
The Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies were among 164 scheduled nationwide by a coalition of pro-life and religious groups opposed to the mandate.
The rule under the new health-care law would require insurance plans to provide contraception coverage without co-pays or other cost sharing.
Religious groups, primarily Catholic, say the mandate would violate their religious freedom by forcing employers, including Catholic universities, hospitals and social service agencies, to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and pills that induce abortion.
That, they said, violates church teachings as well as the freedom of religion principles on which America was founded.
“We're trying to protect religious freedom for our children and grandchildren,” said Rod Heng, 63, of Waterloo, Neb., who attended the rally in Omaha.
“If you don't stand up and be outspoken in protection of those religious liberties, they can be taken away from you,” he said.
In Omaha, the rally also attracted about 15 counterprotesters, who held pro-birth-control signs on the other side of Douglas Street.
“We have a fundamental (disagreement) of what it means to say ‘religious freedom,' ” said Josiah Mannion of Papillion, one of the counterprotesters. “If they can't deny someone birth control, then somehow they are being oppressed. ... It's a persecution complex.”
Contraception is used not just to prevent pregnancy but for an array of women's health concerns, from reducing cramps during periods to controlling endometriosis and even acne.
Both rallies included prayers and singing of patriotic songs. Participants held up signs reading “Stop Obama's HHS Mandate” and “Let Freedom Ring.”
Speakers stressed their patriotism but said their country cannot compel them to do something they believe is immoral.
In Omaha, Edward DeSimone, a professor of pharmacy sciences at Creighton University, told the crowd that the mandate constituted “an ongoing and insidious assault on health care providers” because it attacked their right not to distribute “abortion-type pills.”
“The pope has made it clear: If we're told we have to do it, we must violate the law,” he said. “Your conscience is yours. It is time to fight for it and keep others from stealing it.”
At the Lincoln rally, Brown drew a loud cheer when he said, “By the way, I am not representing the University of Nebraska” — a reference to a recent scolding from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman for Brown's outspoken opposition to same-sex rights ordinances passed recently in Omaha and Lincoln.
Brown on Friday said people must be willing to surrender their jobs, reputations, promotions and possessions “and eventually their lives” to uphold the laws of God and speak freely about Jesus Christ.
Brown referred to the story of the apostle Peter, who, despite repeated beatings by authorities, refused to stop preaching.
“For me, freedom means I may not have a job at the end. So I don't get to coach football. Whoop-de-do,” Brown said. “Jesus Christ has already paid the price. I will live with Him forever and ever.”
President Obama offered a compromise in February: The coverage could be provided by third-party administrators unconnected to a religious institution. But church leaders have said that also is unacceptable.
Contact the writer: