By KEVIN ALLEN
South Bend Tribune Staff Writer
11:34 PM EDT, March 23, 2012
A large crowd rallied Friday at Jon R. Hunt Plaza as part of a nationwide network of protests against the federal mandate that insurers provide birth control in all employer health plans, even those at many religious organizations.
Men, women and children of all ages nearly filled the plaza at noon in
front of the Morris Performing Arts Center, and, despite sprinkling
rain, remained there for more than an hour to pray and listen to
It was just one of the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” events held
Friday in about 140 cities across the United States.
The protests were scheduled to coincide with the two-year anniversary
since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, but they
also represent a feeling among some people that religion is losing its
place in American society.
“I hope someone is listening,” said Tom Uebbing, a South Bend resident
who organized the downtown rally. “I know Almighty God is.”
In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced
that the new health care law requires employer health plans, including
those at many religious charities, hospitals, schools and
universities, to offer free contraception.
Tom Gill, president of St. Joseph County Right to Life, said the
exemption for faith-based employers is so narrow that “Jesus and his
apostles would not have been religious enough to qualify for this
exemption, because they served people of all faiths.”
Obama worked out an accommodation last month that requires insurers,
instead of employers, to pay for the birth control, but that
compromise hasn’t satisfied those who are morally opposed to
“What the president is asking us to do is try to deceive our own
conscience,” Gill said. “He wants us to make it seem like we’re not
offering or paying for the objectionable services, even though we
Those at the rally Friday also spoke out against a proposal before the
South Bend Common Council to add gender identity and sexual
orientation to the city’s human rights ordinance.
Uebbing said the measure on the agenda for Monday’s council meeting is
part of a “militant homosexual movement.”
Patrick Mangan, executive director of Citizens for Community Values,
singled out council member Valerie Schey, one of the measure’s four
sponsors, for saying after a meeting earlier this month that council
members should observe the separation of church and state, and not let
their religious beliefs dictate their decisions on public policy.
“There are a number of people who don’t want to hear your faith-based
opinion,” Mangan said, “and I would suggest you share it with them.”
Schey responded later Friday by saying elected officials have the
right to use their religious beliefs when making decisions.
“I personally try to be mindful of the fact that people in our
community have many different beliefs,” she wrote in an e-mail, “and I
feel I need to honor those when making decisions on behalf of the
There were about a dozen counter-protesters at the rally Friday.
Marie Mitchell stood at the front of the crowd, holding a sign bearing
the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no
law respecting an establishment of religion.”
Elkhart resident Tom Butler held signs in both hands at the edge of
the plaza next to Colfax Avenue.
The first read, “One nation under God is a spiritual nation. One
nation under religion is Iran.” The other read, “If citizens can be
exempted from birth control you are morally opposed to, can I be
exempted from paying taxes for wars I am morally opposed to?”
Mitchell, a South Bend resident, said “the prospect of a conversation”
brought her to the rally. The more often that people with different
perspectives come together, she said, the more they’ll understand each
“There’s a big divide here,” she said. “I met some very nice women who
were holding very different signs from mine. That’s how change
Staff writer Kevin Allen:
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