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Miami rally defends religious freedom from health insurance mandate

Waving American flags and thumbing rosary beads, a crowd of Miami’s faithful gathered outside the federal courthouse on Friday to protest President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Nearly 400 people turned out for the rally that was part of the Stand Up for Religious Freedom movement, a loose coalition of religious and conservative entities that has organized simultaneous demonstrations in more than 160 U.S. cities.

The movement’s main issue is the Health and Human Services mandate that requires all employers, even religious organizations such as schools and hospitals, to provide employees with health insurance that covers contraception and birth control pills. One of the biggest complaints is with the “Plan B” pill that anti-abortion supporters describe as abortion-inducing, which would violate their beliefs in the sanctity of life.

“This specific mandate forces us to engage in activities that our church has held as immoral and sinful,” said Miriam Rivera, one of the organizers. “This has never before happened in this country.”

The Roman Catholic Church has been instrumental in the legal challenge to the president’s healthcare reform, which was brought before the Supreme Court in March. The court still has not ruled on whether parts of the bill are unconstitutional, but a decision is expected as soon as Monday. Any outcome is sure to feature prominently in the political strategy of both parties for the upcoming presidential race.

With anti-abortion pamphlets doubling as fans in the South Florida sun, the crowd shouted “Christ is risen!” and “Viva Cristo el Rey!” as Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski took the microphone. First in English and then briefly in Spanish, he defended the separation of church and state as a protection for religion and criticized this “unprecedented intrusion” on religious freedom.

“Healthcare reform should include everyone and should kill no one,” Wenski said. “This bill fails on both counts.”

Other Catholic, Protestant and Jewish speakers echoed his message and led the crowd in patriotic songs. There were no representatives from other religions, although organizers said that all were welcome.

Angel Martelo, a 23-year-old psychology student at Miami Dade College, said that he was attending the rally because “the most vulnerable people don’t have a voice,” in reference to pregnancies that end in abortion. Other participants added that “authentic femininity” includes embracing pregnancy rather than treating it as a disease.

As Archbishop Wenski left the rally to deliver another speech in Broward County on the same issue, he said that he was pleased with the turnout and hopeful for the message it sends.

“We just want people to be aware of the real threat to religious freedom,” he said. “That way this administration will have no choice but to pay attention.”