More than 100 men, women and children gathered outside the Federal Building Friday afternoon to show their disapproval of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate, which requires nearly all employers to provide health plans that include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.
With the people waving American flags and singing patriotic songs such as America the Beautiful, it almost seemed like a holiday celebration. The only exception to the usual festivities were the signs people held to the passing cars on West Third Street. Some of the drivers honked and gave thumbs up as they continued driving.
When Williamsport held its first rally in March, leaders Kristen Hayes and Sarah Reid knew a second rally would be possible if Health and Human Services did not rescind the mandate.
Around a hundred people gathered for the second religious freedoms rally in Williamsport in front of the Federal building on West Third Street. Rally participants line West Third Street trying to get the attention of motorists.
"If is apparent on the federal and state levels that our rights our being stripped from us, one by one," Hayes said. "If we don't stand up now, we'll lose the rights that our Founding Fathers put in place for us and brave men and women, past and present, fight to defend."
Friday was chosen for the second protest because it marked the 223rd anniversary of the day James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights to the First
Congress, Reid said. It also is a few weeks before Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Affordable Care Act, sometime at the end of the month.
"If Obamacare is ruled unconstitutional, we must ensure that religious freedom will be protected in subsequent health care legislation," Reid said. "But if Obamacare is not struck down, we will be sending the federal government a clear message that the faith-based institutions and private businesses affected by the HHS Mandate here in Williamsport and the surrounding area will not violate their consciences by complying with it."
Mark Schall, rally co-organizer and speaker, said he could not see how Democracy has any business dictating man recognize the government as equal or superior to God.
"It won't just be the end of faith," he said, "It would be the end of Democracy."
As a Catholic American father, husband, son and brother, he felt that some of those titles were under attack.
"We ... didn't pick this fight," Schall said. "We didn't want this fight. But we are in this fight."
Two ministers from different faiths spoke about religious freedom allowing them to practice the way they want.
While the founding fathers had different opinions of scripture interpretation, most had common faith in the Bible, said the Rev. Charlie Winkelman, pastor of Jersey Shore Presbyterian Church.
The first Congress opened in prayer and four chapters of the Bible were read. They ordered 20,000 Bibles for school when there were a shortage. They held worship in the Capital Building, Winkelman said.
Catholics believe that artificial conception is immoral, but not all denominations are in agreement, said Father David Bechtel, chaplain and theology teacher at St. John Neumann Regional Academy and assistant pastor at St. Joseph the Worker Parish.
"The issue is not contraception," Bechtel said. "The issue before us is religious freedom."
In addition to praying for the complete reversal of the mandate, Reid said people need to unite as people of faith and educate others that it is not a "war on women" or "contraception access," since contraceptions are cheaply available and, he said, no ban is proposed.
"This education is not something that need solely concern the Catholic Church," Reid said. "If the federal government can force Catholics to act against their consciences, they can force anyone to act against their conscience - Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and even Atheist - and by the same pitiful reasoning."
Reid wants to continue the fight so that her children have the freedoms others previously had enjoyed. If the mandate is not completely rescinded, she will continue to organize rallies and, if she has to go to jail for noncompliance, she said she would.
"Because nothing in this world means more to me, and I'm sure to most, if not all, of you that our great God and being able to practice our religion freely," she said.