NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Southern Baptist executive Richard Land joined pro-life religious leaders and public figures in extolling the virtues of “our glorious First Amendment,” calling Americans to stand up for religious freedom in light of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s abortion/contraceptive mandate.
The Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom was held in more than 100 U.S. cities at noon local time to mark the second anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the contentious health care legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and to protest the mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court is examining whether the law is constitutional.
“All of the restrictions in the First Amendment are on the government, not the people,” Land told the crowd March 23, which was estimated at 500 people and had gathered on the steps on the Tennessee capitol. “Our ultimate allegiance belongs to God, not some government bureaucrat.”
Under the HHS rule, all employer-provided health care plans must cover contraceptives for women without copayments or deductibles. The government’s definition of contraceptives includes ones such as Plan B and “ella” that can act after fertilization, causing a chemical abortion. Only places of worship are excluded from the requirement.
Land and other speakers, including U.S. Rep. Diane Black, warned of religious freedom repercussions if the president’s health care law is upheld by the court.
“This is not a Catholic issue — it’s not a Baptist issue,” Land said. “It’s an issue of freedom. This is about religious freedom, not reproductive freedom. This is about conscience, not contraception.”
Land said that Baptists stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Catholics and other people of faith “for our God-given, First Amendment, religious freedom rights.”
“For any human being to try to coercively interfere with another person’s relationship to God is ‘soul rape’ and should not be tolerated,” Land said, referencing a term used by Roger Williams, an early American proponent of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
GuideStone Financial Resources, a Southern Baptist entity that provides health insurance coverage to 60,000 people, including pastors and missionaries, is self-funded.
“We are not going to allow the government to force us to fund that which we find unconscionable,” Land said.
Under the government’s plan, GuideStone would not be exempt from the requirement to provide contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, as part of its medical plans.
These assaults on Americans’ religious liberty, Land explained, are “symptoms of a virus that has infected the federal government.”
The virus is “secularism,” he continued, asserting the government is “intolerant of people of faith.”
“Our ultimate allegiance belongs to God, not some government bureaucrat,” Land said. “The government cannot interfere with our God-given freedom of conscience.”
Black said the mandate “violates the law and violates our consciences.” The nation’s Founding Fathers never intended a government “so large and intrusive,” she said.
“Your health care should be between you and your doctor,” the Republican congressman said, suggesting some have placed the health care measure above the Constitution.
The rally was organized by Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society. The theme for the nationwide was “Stand Up for Religious Freedom — Stop the HHS Mandate!”
Speakers at the Nashville event also included David Choby, a Nashville Catholic bishop; Rachael Kaiser, an emergency room physician at Nashville’s St. Thomas Hospital; and Carol Swain, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School.
Elizabeth Wood, communications specialist for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.