The war between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church (and its allies) is far from over.
Today at noon, thousands of people will rally at over 120 locations across to protest the mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services that all employers–including religious schools and hospitals–must cover contraceptives, sterilizations, and ‘morning-after’ drugs in their health insurance plans.
They’re calling it a rally to “Stand Up for Religious Liberty.”
So far on the religious side, the anti-mandate side has been led by Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. But these rallies weren’t organised by the Catholic Church, though many Catholic parishes and other Christian churches have promoted the local rallies in the past week. Instead, they have been organised by lay men and women mostly from the pro-life movement.
Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League is one of those leaders and he spoke with us about the rationale for the rallies, why they planned to have over 100 rally locations, and where the battle is moving forward.
Business Insider: When did the idea for this rally first come up?
Eric Scheidler: It was actually the very beginning of February, scheduled our first conference call for the Monday after Obama’s so called accommodation press conference. The initial call was already scheduled. We we re watching very closely to see if he was going to offer anything substantial. He didn’t.
BI: Well, my first question is why so many? Why not plan one enormous rally in Washington this summer?
ES: My mission as the Executive director of the Pro-Life action league is to put regular people to work fighting for the sanctity of life and putting their own local spheres of influence. When I heard of this mandate calling gofer a nationwide mandate like this — things like the March for Life protest Washington are only accessible to a small number of people. At the same time the problem is not just centered in Washington Dc. yes DC is where this mandate is coming from. Its all over the United States that people are believing the lies and spin. Also we wanted to be acting locally, to confront all those lies the people are believing from coast to coast.
BI: But, I think an enterprising liberal journalist would just travel to Goshen, New York and take pictures of what might be a pretty underwhelming scene, and make fun of it.
ES: It would be very easy for someone in the media who had an axe to grind to do something like that. But any journalist who went to a small place with 20 people and said it was a failure would get blasted in the comments section with YouTube videos and other reports showing even hundreds and thousands of people. And I have found in my working with the media, that they are much more interested in an interesting story than in trying to promote an ideology. Moreover I think regular people really need something like this to do. I can’t abandon them, and say ‘Don’t participate You’re not going to look good on tv.”
BI: I imagine if the other side of this debate was organising protests, it would have received way more media coverage in the run-up. Stories like “Women are fighting back.” What have you done to promote this?
ES: I can’t control the media. What we can do is try to get the word out in every way we actually can. Pounding Facebook, on Twitter, on the blogs. We’ve reached out to the friendly media, Catholic media, Christian media. Christian Post. I’ve done interviews from coast to coast on Christian radio. We’ve been getting the word out that way. My phone is ringing off the hook. Yesterday [Wednesday] we signed up eight new cities, including Boston Massachusetts.
BI: What about the timing? My guess was that after the debate shifted because of Sandra Fluke’s testimony to Congress and Rush Limbaugh calling her a slut, that the anti-mandate side would simply lie low and then press their case in court.
ES: When we started planning, we talked a lot about what we could do with timing. We wanted something that was far enough out that it could be a kind of re-set.
And Rush Limbaugh’s comments were horribly damaging to the case. The word slut has a definition and people can look up to see if Rush Limbaugh is guilty of inaccuracy. But he is guilty of giving the other side a golden opportunity, of giving them chance to turn the debate away from religious freedom and to who is being a bully. I hope tomorrow we stop thinking about Sandra Fluke. We need to highlight the people who are standing up and saying we reject Barack Obama’s HHS mandate. We reject the idea that fertility is a medical condition and that pregnancy is a disease.
BI: But it seemed like this debate is an effort to put the focus on religious issues, not on just reproductive ones, right?
ES: The point I’m trying to make and what really pauses to make people think, is that the Administration is trying to redefine what constitutes religious ministry. It’s really not about the contraceptive issue, or about contraceptive access. Contraceptives are widely available and cheap. Contraceptives are just the field on which a larger battle is being fought.
The HHS mandate does include a religious exemption, but it excludes such activities such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and elderly. All the activities that have been recognised for millennia as part of religious ministry. Even the university emerges from the faith tradition. There is an overarching effort to define religious freedom down to freedom of worship. It’s just something in your head and behind closed church doors. It isn’t allowed in the public square. This overturns the first amendment.
BI: Thanks for speaking with us.
ES: Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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