June 9, 2012

Protesters take stand against health care law

Group joins similar rallies across US opposed to contraception requirement

AUGUSTA -- Gerry Pellerin joined a rally in front of the Muskie Federal Building Friday to protest a federal rule that exempts churches from a mandatory health insurance coverage for contraceptives, but covers other religious organizations that don't rely solely on members of the religion as employees, such as schools and hospitals.

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CHORUS: People sing "God Bless the USA" during the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally on Friday outside the Edmund S. Muskie Federal Building in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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SPEAKING OUT: The Rev. Bob Emrich, of the Maine Jeremiah Project , addresses the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally on Friday outside the Edmund S. Muskie Federal Building in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The 78-year-old grandmother attended the rally not so much because of the issue of the government requiring religion-affiliated organizations to provide employees with health insurance coverage for birth control, but the threat she perceives the mandate will have on individual freedom.

"At my age, if I don't start standing up for our freedom, who's going to?" Pellerin said. "I'm doing it for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to get back to the freedom we had when we were growing up."

About 75 people, including church and tea party members, turned out at noon for the rally, cosponsored by Concerned Women for America of Maine and 40 Days for Life. They carried American flags and signs and waved and hooted at motorists honking their horns.

The federal rule, part of the 2010 health care reform law, requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives as preventative health services, including emergency contraception and sterilization.

Janet LeBlanc, rally captain and 40 Days for Life director, said there were similar rallies in 160 cities across the country Friday.

She said the federal rule doesn't take into account religious organizations that consider contraception immoral and goes against what some people believe.

"We're waiting to see what happens with the Supreme Court later this month," LeBlanc said, referring to the expected ruling by the nation's high court on the Affordable Care Act. "We feel the health and human services mandate violates the First Amendment."

In March, more than 63,000 people gathered at sites in 145 cities, including Portland, to protest the mandate. The federal mandate is still being finalized after protests by religious groups.

Rick McKusic, of Rockland, said he has nothing against abortion, but does have a problem with government "sticking their nose in the church's business."

"That's why I'm here," McKusic said. "I don't think the church should stick its nose in government, either."

The Rev. Bob Emrich, of the Maine Jeremiah Project and keynote speaker at the rally, said the mandate undermines the most important freedom Americans have -- religious freedom.

"It's not just about contraceptives and birth control," Emrich said. "We want them to see the bigger picture. This is just one example of infringement on religious freedom. If we lose that, we lose everything."

Laura McCown, Catholic campus minister at Colby College, also spoke at the rally. She said the federal rule will affect Catholic services nationwide, including the lives of 100 million people each year.

"We did not ask for this fight, but we will respond," McCown said. "Just like those who are here today responded."

Following the rally, the Christian Civic League of Maine and Concerned Women for America of Maine held an open house at the league's headquarters next door.

Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women's Lobby, said her group supports the health care mandate because most American women have used contraception at some point.

"Not acknowledging that people need contraception is simply to ignore an enormous aspect of life and it doesn't do any of us any good," Townsend said. "Furthermore, there are many reasons for using contraception, including the pill, but many also use it for medical reasons. That's often overlooked."

Mechele Cooper -- 621-5663

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