A group of Catholic laity has coordinated an ecumenical rally designed to educate the faithful about threats to religious liberty.
Steve Nash, vice chairman of the newly organized St. Peter's Fellowship, said the group's Religious Freedom Rally is set for June 23 at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City.
Nash, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, said the rally is being held in partnership with the Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
The Oklahoma City rally will take place during “Fortnight for Freedom,” a faith initiative created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, of which Coakley is a member.
Coakley said the initiative is a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom. He said it is one way the bishops hope to encourage parishioners across the country to weigh in on the “assault on religious liberty.”
At the heart of the matter is the bishops' ongoing concern with a federal mandate issued Jan. 20 that effectively requires faith-affiliated organizations to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate would affect faith-affiliated hospitals, universities and agencies, and organizations were given one year to comply.
Coakley said the timing of the Fortnight for Freedom from June 21 to July 4 is no accident as July 4 is the day America celebrates its independence from a tyrannical British monarchy that squelched religious liberty.
“It was timed as an exclamation point — for emphasis,” he said. “There are certainly both religious and patriotic themes throughout this.”
Federal officials amended the mandate's requirements in February to make insurance companies instead of employers pay the costs of the contraception services. However, Coakley said, bishops across the country continue to oppose the mandate because it will still negatively impact faith-affiliated organizations, and they believe insurance companies will transfer those additional costs to employers anyway.
Sense of urgency
Coakley said Catholics have been joined by people of other Christian faith traditions in opposing the mandate. He said the rally, which will include Protestant as well as Catholic speakers, shows the unification that has manifested.
“It is an effort to build a broad coalition,” Coakley said. “We've been saying this is not a Catholic issue, it's an American issue. It's a human-rights issue.”