By Mark Haney
The Catholic Times
FLINT — Hundreds of people — including students from St. Thomas More Academy, who were given the day off — stood Friday, March 23, for a hour in the parking lot of St. Matthew Parish to listen to speakers before marching to “God Bless America” to the adjacent federal courthouse.
They were part of a national effort in front of U.S. courthouses, state capitols and historic sites to support religious freedom and protest a federal mandate they say violates that freedom by requiring most religious employers to provide no-cost contraceptive coverage even it is contrary to their beliefs.
All of the events, held at noon local time in 143 cities, were part of a nationwide “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally organized by the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, based in Michigan. About 58,000 people participated, according to organizers.
The Flint protest opened with a statement by Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea (on this page), read by Ron Landfair, director of Black Catholic ministry for the diocese.
“I just love our bishop,” said organizer Terese Rachor Beste, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Fenton. “He really stands out for the truth and is really concerned about this.”
While not everyone who attended the protest was Catholic, Brenda Ballard-Jordan of Black Americans for Life spoke for many when she said, “We are all Catholics today.”
But, said Fr. Roy Horning, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Flushing, “as Catholics, as American citizens we will not stand or accept this infringement on our rights as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and of the United States.”
The issue, he added, is not contraception and birth control services mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services in the new federal health care program. “This is about freedom the citizens of the United States have to live our lives in light of our religious faith. If we allow the government to infringe on that now, God have mercy on us.”
Lady Frances Brown of Flint’s Kingdom of Heaven Ministries agreed.
“My prayer is that we accurately and adequately say what is really going on with the HSS mandate,” she said. “Let us not be confused about anything. What this thing is doing is so damnable. It is really undermining the Constitution of the United States of America. And we should not put up with that. We should not allow that.
“It is totally disregarding the First Amendment which guarantees our religious freedom and religious liberty. If our religious liberty can be disregarded so easily, then there is no hope for the rest of our liberties.”
If the Catholic Church is forced, by the mandates, to stop serving its half-million employees and stop serving the billions it helps through its charitable and health agencies, then the nation will feel it.
“Is the government going to take care of the poor?” she said. “How can we expect the government to take care of them? The government is not taking care of the poor people we have already.”
Dr. Ariel Ponce, a Catholic and family practice doctor in Burton, addressed the health aspect of the mandates.
“Women may think contraception protects them,” he said, “but many times it puts them at greater risk, physically and emotionally. In my opinion, birth control does not fall under the area of preventative care.
“The only thing birth control prevents is pregnancy and pregnancy is not a disease. It should not be treated as such. It is a normal and healthy phase of women’s lives.
“This is not just a birth control issue. It is not just a Catholic issue. This is an American issue. Every single American, from the oldest to the unborn, has been endowed by their Creator to the right of religious freedom. We must let our voices be heard. It is not for the government to dictate which of our moral and religious principles we ought or ought not to follow.”
Fr. Steve Mattson, pastor of St. Mary, Queen of Angels Parish in Swartz Creek, supported that thinking.
“This isn’t about contraception, though we, as Catholics, continue to oppose that,” he said. “Fertility is not a problem to be solved. It is a gift.
“What I believe is this is an effort just to get Mother Church to shut up.”
The answer, he added, requires more than just a protest.
“I don’t want to just win this battle,’ He said. “I want to change hearts.”
Brown, however, was a little more strident.
“When they say ‘you must’ and choice is taken out,” she said, “my friends that is tyranny. And if you are afraid to speak out against tyranny, then you are already a slave.”
So, added Culver, “we need to get out of our pews and make it happen.”