White Plains Rally for Religious Freedom
The Fortnight for Freedom (14 days of prayer, study, and protest from June 21 to July 4) was launched in response to the Obama administration’s HHS mandate that will force Catholic institutions, like colleges and charities, and private businesses (like the Eternal Word Television Network, for example) to purchase insurance for their employees that covers contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs.
However, the mandate is only one of several recent encroachments on religious liberty, according to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, who organized the Fortnight event.
The rally in White Plains was sponsored by the Westchester/Putnam Coalition for Religious Freedom and hosted by Tom Feranda and Judy Anderson of the Hudson Valley Coalition for Life.
The invocation — Thomas Jefferson’s Prayer for our Nation — was offered by Rev. Arthur Rojas, Parochial Vicar of St. Joseph’s Church in Yonkers. He said,”we are all here out of love for our country, whether our ancestors came over on the Mayflower or we ourselves are recent immigrants.” Fr. Rojas ended his prayer with the invocation “Viva Christo Rey” and asked for the prayers of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States.
Judy Anderson, then welcomed the crowd. She reminded them of Saint Thomas More, Chancellor of England under Henry VIII, who was sentenced to death for refusing to betray his God and his conscience and who declared on the scaffold that he was “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
The first speaker was Michael Smith, member of the Westchester County Legislature. He spoke about the Clinic Access Bill, which passed the legislature by a 10-7 vote on May 7. This bill would have restricted the rights of protestors at abortion clinics in the county, but it was vetoed by County Executive Rob Asterino. Smith praised Asterino’s ultimate courage for stating, “I’m against abortion, and I don’t care if I lose an election because of it.” Smith said we need more people like Asterino in elected positions and encouraged the audience to get involved and perhaps run for office.
The next speaker was Rev. George Kuhn, the pastor of St. Joseph’s in Yonkers. Before the rally began, Fr. Kuhn and his parishioners, joined by others from Christ the King Church and many rally-goers, prayed the rosary in English and Spanish in the small park across the street from the court house. Then they marched together to the rally.
Fr. Kuhn made it clear that the Church would not accept the false framing of options by which it would either have to accept the Obama mandate or abandon its mission to those who need its help. He said that the true “mandate” given by Christ to the Church at the Last Supper was one of unconditional love — both to friends and enemies. For years, he said, we have been watering down and bending our faith. Now, he said is the time to stand up for what we believe in — and for religious freedom.
Among the other speakers was Raymond W. Belair, Esq., of Belair and Evans LLP. Mr. Belair warned the audience that what they are fighting for is freedom from government interference in the exercise of religion.
He said that the phrase “freedom of worship” is just a code word used by those who want to limit the church to its services and prayers and mean to exclude it from any meaningful participation in the public square.
If the administration can limit what the church can do through the HHS mandate, he said, it’s only a matter of time before another administration will go even further.
The pledge of allegiance and singing was led by Naval Officer Ret. Regina Reilly. Other priests in attendance were Rev. Paul Waddell of St. Margaret of Cotona Church in the Bronx, Rev. Peter Scarumuzzo, of St. Anthony of Padua in West Harrison, and Rev. Chris Montero.