||Over 500 persons attended the Rally for Religious Freedom held outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Madison March 23, joining with rallies held in about 130 cities across the country. (Catholic Herald photos/Joe Ptak)
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MADISON -- Bishop Robert C. Morlino energized a crowd of over 500 persons attending the Rally for Religious Freedom held in the courtyard outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Madison on March 23.
In voicing his opposition to the federal Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring all employers to provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs through their health plans, Bishop Morlino said, “We must make it clear that this regulation cannot and will not stand. Let’s make it clear and let’s make sure we’re heard.”
His address to the crowd was punctuated with applause as he emphasized that we should keep “freedom of religion at the top of the agenda.” The bishop said that this is not a denominational, Catholic issue, but rather one based on reason and respect for conscience.
“Every human being should agree with us because respect for conscience is absolute,” he said. “There should be the broadest possible agreement on protection of conscience.”
He said the Catholic Church and any employer of deep conviction should not be “forced to pay for someone else’s contraception or abortion.” He said contraception and abortion are readily available, so no one would have a civil right to obtain them taken away.
“What we’re talking about is forcing us to pay for it,” he asserted.
Bishop Morlino said, “Faith and reason are on our side and we have to explain more, read more, think more, and most importantly, pray more.”
While encouraging people to stand up for freedom of religion and conscience, he advised that they do it with charity and with a smile. However, that doesn’t mean we have to “act like wimps,” he said.
The rally began and ended with prayers led by Fr. John Sasse of St. Patrick Parish, Cottage Grove, and Fr. Rick Heilman of St. Mary Parish, Pine Bluff, and St. Ignatius Parish, Mt. Horeb.
Importance of liberty
Josephine Cowen led the crowd in singing “America the Beautiful” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The rally featured red, white, and blue balloons and signs calling for religious liberty and opposing the HHS mandate.
Pro-Life Wisconsin organized the rally in Madison. Steve Karlen, the organization’s development director, spoke to those gathered. “Thank you for coming on a work and school day to speak up for freedom.”
He recalled that Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Karlen said, “Our liberty to live out our faith is being trampled. I don’t think there’s any conscience clause strong enough. We want the mandate overturned entirely.”
He advised those attending the rally “to stay involved, contact your elected representatives, and vote pro-life. These are dark days, but we are people of hope and joy,” said Karlen.
People of all ages at rally
Families, students, and people of all ages attended the rally. Rita Endres, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Waunakee, noted that people of all faiths joined together at the event. “What a wonderful outpouring of faith to pray together for this cause. I’ve never seen such conviction.”
“We’re standing up for our faith. I’m proud to be Catholic,” said Barb Kutchmarek, also a member of the Waunakee parish.
Fr. Monte Robinson drove a distance to attend the rally. He is pastor of parishes in Belmont, Calamine, and Truman in Lafayette County.
He said, “I drove to Madison today to attend the rally because I consider the issues at hand a grave matter. As Catholics we are called to faithful citizenship. The dangers that the HHS wish to impose affect not only the religious freedom of Catholics but lessen the God-given freedom of every American.
“I am grateful for this opportunity for others and myself to express our opposition to the HHS mandate. We cannot be silent. Our voices must be heard for the good of all America.”
Andrew Forecki, a member of St. Christopher Parish in Verona, commented, “I came to the rally to support our priests and bishops and the right of the Catholic Church and all people to have their conscience protected. It was wonderful to see so many families and people of all ages. It seems the Church is united on this.”