Hundreds of Roman Catholics and their leaders gathered Friday in downtown Santa Ana to rally against what they say is the erosion of religious liberty in the United States.
The Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally took aim at the usual suspects, including President Barack Obama and Planned Parenthood, in a demonstration of piety-laced patriotism that sought to unite the religious masses against a plank in the Affordable Care Act, which the president
signed in 2010, that requires employers to provide insurance coverage for reproductive
care, such as contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The fallout over the mandate sent the
scrambling earlier this year.
After Roman Catholics blasted the policy as an attack on the First Amendment, Obama waved an olive branch by offering an exemption for religious employers, such as Catholic hospitals. Instead, insurance companies would be required to offer the coverage directly to employees.
The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing the law's constitutionality.
At the Santa Ana rally, which was one of many held across the country, Jesse Romero, a radio evangelist, stoked the anti-Obama sentiment by saying the president is on the wrong side of religious liberty, homosexual marriage and abortion. He compared Obama to Pharaoh, and quoted Old Testament passages in condemning his policies.
"Our president calls himself a Christian," Romero said. "And yet we can see he's wrong on all these (counts)."
Protesters flew American flags and held signs referencing God or the Bible. Among them was Jose Maria Alcasde, a 55-year-old Orange resident whose banner read "God's law comes first. Repeal socialist Obamacare!"
When asked what Jesus would do about healthcare for the poor in the United States, Alcasde declined to comment, and instead focused on the church's stance against the mandate.
"This law is trying to force Catholics to accept something that is against their conscience," he said.
Roman Catholic protesters weren't the only ones in attendance at the rally, which featured loud calls for First Amendment protection.
Bruce Gleason and theBackyard Skeptics, that swashbuckling band of unbelievers that pepper Orange County billboards with anti-God propaganda, proudly demonstrated against what they say is religion's incursion into the rights of those Americans who do just fine without a deity.
"They actually got it wrong," Gleason said. "They should say 'stand up for religious restrictions.'"
Gleason and the gang say religious institutions are unholy hypocrites who take tax exemptions from the state while giving the finger to the government when they disagree with public policy.
Speaking of fingers, Gleason said he got flipped off, but another person, leaving jail, gave him a thumbs-up.
Jennifer Ramirez, a 31-year-old from Corona, said some folks offered to intercede on her behalf.
"They say 'we'll pray for you,' and we say 'we'll think for you," Ramirez said.
Gleason attempted to leave his patch of grass and join the religious rally at 700 W. Civic Center Dr., but was promptly removed by a Santa Ana Police Department officer. Permits and shit, apparently.
Michaelene Kubeck, a 77-year-old Stanton resident, held a sign that said "Defend religious freedom/conscience."
She didn't care much for Gleason's antics.
"I stay out of that," she said. "All I can say is God help them."