JEFFERSON CITY — Appealing to history, theology and the Christian mission to serve, leaders of four Christian denominations called their flocks and Missouri legislators to stand for religious freedom.
At least 5,000 people — most dressed in red — cheered and shouted amens from the floor of the Capitol Rotunda and the two floors overlooking it to hear Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Director John Yeats; Darrin Rogers of the Assemblies of God; Maggie Karner, director of life and health ministries for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; and Roman Catholic Archbishop Robert Carlson.
The Obama administration's recent requirement for religious organizations to provide contraceptive drugs and services prompted the groups' call for the rally. Speakers at the March 27 event insisted that Obama's compromise to require insurance companies to provide contraception would still burden religious organizations.
Yeats told listeners that nonconformists rose up in England when that country's government passed conformity acts. "There are still a few of us nonconformists around here," he said.
The contraceptive mandate means people of faith would be "forced into ideological compliance," Yeats said. When Yeats said, "and we say," everyone joined him — "no."
"It's a shame for the government to demand this of faith communities…. Aren't we the nation that has attempted to teach others about religious liberty?" he asked.
He suggested that if Americans could lose religious freedom, they could lose other constitutional protections.
"As a woman, I want to make sure everybody understands. This is not about women's issues at all," Karner declared. "This concerns all women and all men and all Americans. It concerns our constitutional right."
Individuals of faith "bring care and healing to a broken society, to both body and soul," she added. "Mercy is intrinsic to the Christian life…. It's not what we do but who we are."
That quality of mercy led churches to be at the forefront of the development of hospitals and healthcare systems. "Religious people have shaped what the modern healthcare system looks like today," she said. "We can be a valuable asset…but only if we are allowed to work within the confines of our beliefs."
Karner suggested that if the faith community gives in to the contraception mandate, it could face other issues — end of life, parental authority, other healthcare mandates — in the future.
The mandate "strikes at the heart of faith. We will be required to deny its practice and I say never!" Archbishop Carlson declared, and the crowd roared. "We will not render unto Caesar what belongs to Almighty God."
With the mandate, the government is telling the church "what teachings we can and cannot act upon," he said. Christians would "violate" the mission Jesus gave for believers to participate in the "public square."
Not every religious leader agreed with the rally's purpose. Retired Baptist pastor in Missouri and longtime member of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Rudy Pulido believes the rally "really wasn't promoting religious liberty but rather was challenging it."
"The historic understanding of religious liberty has as its core principle that each person is competent under God to make his or her own moral and religious decisions and is responsible only to God for those decisions," he added.
A director for Churchnet, Pulido did not attend the prayer rally, instead attending a labor rally at the Capitol the same day.
"The Catholic Church approaches questions of moral and religious decisions from a hierarchical perspective, that is, the church, not the individual, makes such decisions," he said. "For our government to impose upon all Americans the hierarchical theological position of removing contraceptives from our national health policy flies in the face of the Baptist understanding of religious liberty."