A religious gathering punctuated by fiery speeches and standing ovations brought Catholics and Protestants together Saturday, united against a common enemy.
Rally for Religious Freedom speakers, including a Roman Catholic archbishop, a Pentecostal leader and a Southern Baptist pastor, said threats to religious liberty should trouble all people of faith.
The rally at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City was hosted by a group of Catholic laity called St. Peter's Fellowship, and it drew about 3,200 people. Organizers said it was held in conjunction with the “Fortnight For Freedom,” a faith initiative born out of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' outrage over a U.S. Health and Human Services mandate that effectively requires faith-affiliated organizations to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
In his speech that kicked off the rally, the Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, said the broader and most troubling concern about the federal mandate is what the U.S. bishops see as the federal government's infringement on religious liberty.
“The government has picked this fight, and we cannot afford to back away from it. There is simply too much at stake for us all,” Coakley said.
He reminded those in attendance that the “Fortnight For Freedom” is a rallying cry for the faithful to pray against threats to religious freedom, to help educate others about the issues at hand and to stand with American bishops in their battle against the mandate.
“The government has no business defining religion or religious entities,” Coakley said, adding that the religious freedom issue is not a partisan issue.
The Rev. Frank Cargill, superintendent of the Oklahoma District Council of Assemblies of God, likened threats to religious freedom to an “aggressive cancer.”
“The tyranny of government interference in religious affairs must stop at the doors of our daily living,” he said.
Cargill said Christians have watched as prayer was taken out of school, among other things. He said believers must stand up now for their religious freedom and not allow July 4 to “merely become another holiday.”