Owners of the Chicago Bears hosted religious leaders and politicians Sunday at the team’s practice facility, where speakers lamented the “eroding freedom to speak in the language of faith in the public square.”
The Reclaiming Religious Liberty Leadership Summit included Roman Catholic, Muslim and Jewish speakers, an Air Force officer and two politicians (one Democrat, one Republican.)
Patrick McCaskey, the Bears’ senior director of special projects, also addressed the crowd at its training facility in Lake Forest, serenading them with a religious liberty-themed rendition of “Bear Down, Chicago Bears.”
Concerns about the federal government’s mandate that some religious institutions offer health insurance policies that cover their employees’ contraceptives and its implications for religious freedom aren’t new. Dozens of Catholic organizations have sued the federal government, arguing that the rule would force them to either stop serving non-Catholics or contradict the Vatican’s teachings.
The mandate has two high-profile opponents in Patrick McCaskey and his mother, Virginia, who is the Bears’ principal owner. But Patrick McCaskey said it would be “unfair to say the Bears, as an organization, agree” with everything that was said Sunday. His mother said it would be “inappropriate” for the team to take an official stand on the mandate.
“We’re doing what we can by hosting this event and by our personal efforts,” Virginia McCaskey said.
The three-hour conference featured more than a dozen speakers who expressed concern about perceived government hostility toward religion in general and Christianity in particular. About a hundred people attended the event, held in the room where the Bears’ special teams units meet.
Bemoaning the contraceptive mandate was a frequent rallying cry, but some speakers cited evidence of religious persecution in abortion laws, gay marriage and efforts to characterize mandate opponents as anti-woman.
Christine Mugridge, a theologian who has worked as a correspondent for a religious radio network, said recent events should serve as a wake-up call to Catholics, whose beliefs she said have been under assault for years.
“Does it take us being forced to pay for an abortion to get upset about it?” she asked.
Thomas Yep, the summit spokesman, said the day aimed to bring people of different faiths together to find common ground in the shared struggle for religious acceptance. He cited the recent Chick-fil-A controversy, in which Mayor Rahm Emanuel and an alderman criticized the fast-food chain when its owner said he opposed gay marriage, as an example of why more dialogue is needed locally.
“There are talks going back and forth about what are Chicago values – talk about tolerance, about openness to everybody,” Yep said in an interview. “But then we have a different view, all of a sudden we have these Chicago politicians saying we are not open to this viewpoint. We can’t sit there and let other people vilify people for standing up for what they believe.”