Metro-Kiwanis Park hosted a variety of faith-based citizens Thursday night for the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally.
The outdoor event held at the gazebo to the right of the play area began packing in the people around 6:15 p.m., toting lawn chairs and signs in support of the movement.
Several local churches have openly opposed the Department of Health and Human Services mandate stating that all insurance must cover birth control and abortion-causing drugs and chose to attend the rally as one unifying body.
Sheila Bedford, rally committee member, said the rally was not just about getting together in support of the movement, but also to educate people on their rights set forth in the Constitution.
“What we hope to accomplish, more than anything, is to increase awareness in education, that we cannot take our liberties for granted,” Bedford said. “This is a national movement to get people aware and kind of out of our level of complacency.”
She said she hopes that the number of people from different faiths present at the rally will show the government, state and federal, that people are concerned.
“People care. People are upset about this issue of trying to mandate what ... constitutes a church, what constitutes their conscience and what they can and can’t do, based on what the government says,” Bedford said. “The whole point is, the government is not in charge of that.”
Gretchen Pavlik, a rally participant, said she has concerns over the mandate, mostly because she feels the citizens were never notified of its content.
“I think it’s the way that they put it in and I think it’s because it’s so thick that nobody really knows what it’s about. They just threw it in at us and said this is what we have to accept and that’s not our government,” Pavlik said. “Government doesn’t tell us what to do. We abide by the laws and they should abide by the laws.”
For Rev. Pete Tackett, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church and rally committee member, the rally is just showing people in the area that churches still serve a purpose in the community and that they should also not have their own personal beliefs infringed upon through a mandate.
“We live in a culture in which increasingly churches are being marginalized. We’re expected to help with social ills, and yet, we get continuing government regulation that tightens down our ability to just practice what we believe,” Tackett said. “Our position is not that everybody should believe what we believe, but that we should be free to practice what we believe.”
Tackett went on to say the churches present at the rally all believe they have the right to employ people that believe what they believe, as well as provide benefits to employees that are in line with their own religious beliefs as a faith.
“All of us as believers we may ... have some different theologies and we may have some different practices and methodologies, but at the end we’ll stand together,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting to see us together. Most of the people here I don’t know and I would not have known if we hadn’t done this event.”
Two different sets of protesters showed up near the rally Thursday night. Whitney Prater, along with four others, marched silently holding signs questioning the rationale of the rally movement and displaying other pressing points going on in the government.
Shouts of protests came from three males wearing bandanas, covering their faces from the nose down, who approached the rally area. Police officers talked with the protesters and they in turn gave flyers with information about coexisting and how the rally was not about religious freedom, but rather advancing the agenda of extreme conservatives.
According to their flyer, they also claimed the rally’s website attacked the LGBT community, women’s rights and health care.
The rally continued on despite the protests and included speakers including state Reps. Dale Ford and Matthew Hill; Rebecca Ketchie, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund; Peggy English and Lisa Morris of “Silent No More”; and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.
Fr. Peter Iorio, pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, led the rally in an opening prayer and the Knights of Columbus of Upper East Tennessee presented the colors for the pledge and national anthem. Music was provided by Lightnin’ Charlie and T.R. and Carla Dunn.
For more information on the rally movement, visit www.religiousfreedomjc.webstarts.com.