A large crowd gathered in Phoenix Park on Friday afternoon in support of religious freedom and to protest President Barack Obama's health care policies.
Lexington joined 164 cities nationwide — including Louisville and Owensboro — for the Stand Up Rally organized to voice opposition to the president's Affordable Care Act and its mandates.
Bryan Beauman, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, called the health care plan the "greatest attack on religious freedom" in America's history with mandates that force employers to "participate in this culture of death."
"This administration seeks to promote the destruction of life, the compromise of conscience and the erosion of religious freedom," Beauman said.
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Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a mandate that would require all employers — including those with religious affiliations such as Catholic hospitals and colleges — to cover the cost of contraceptives and birth-control drugs. Obama later offered to soften the rule so insurers would pay for birth control instead of religious groups. But Roman Catholic bishops and others have said that the accommodation, which is still under discussion, doesn't go far enough.
The Supreme Court is reviewing the law and could issue a ruling by the end of the month.
The first Stand Up rally in March drew an estimated 150 people; Friday's event exceeded expectations, said event coordinator Paula Muncy, who estimated the crowd at 275.
"This issue hits so many of my close friends and my family," Muncy said. "I don't like someone telling me what I have to pay for, especially when I'm morally opposed to it."
The rally was scheduled to coincide with the 223rd anniversary of James Madison's introduction of the Bill of Rights. The rally's speakers encouraged attendants to fight for the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.
Lavinia Spirito, a local attorney and state representative candidate for the 76th district, said the issue has no middle ground.
"It really is a matter of life and death," Spirito said. "We need to come together to oppose the arrogant abuse of power that is literally strangling free religious exercise and expression across the nation."
Kent Ostrander, executive director of the Family Foundation of Kentucky, read the First Amendment aloud to highlight the government's health care law as "patently un-American."
Bill Wakefield, chief financial officer of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington, applauded recent legal steps by Catholic groups to halt action that limits religious entities.
"It's time for us to put on our breastplate of righteousness, our helmet and salvation, and wrap ourselves in zeal," Wakefield said. "It will be a travesty of justice if any entity or individual of faith are required to participate with these intrinsically evil mandates."
Mike Corder, 67, of Richmond, said religious freedom should not be a partisan issue. The retired electrical engineer leads a prayer group at Grace Fellowship Church and advocates for more influence in state government which is controlled, he said, by a minority.
"We don't want a theocracy," he said. "...What we want is the rights of people to be represented, and we don't get that representation when it comes to religious freedom."
State Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, said although Kentucky is not one of the 27 states suing the federal government over the law, 59 of Kentucky's 138 state legislators have signed a letter in support of those states.
"We felt it was important enough," she said. "We can't sit idly by, and, based on you all's attendance today, I know you are not sitting idly by."