Rally for Religious Freedom planned Friday in Bel Air will target controversial HHS mandates

Concerned citizens from around northeastern Maryland will come together Friday in front of the Harford County Circuit Courthouse in Bel Air as part of a nationwide rally, Stand Up for Religious Freedom.

The movement, which will take place in more than 130 cities and towns around the country from noon to 1 p.m., is in protest of a federal Health and Human Services mandate that would require health insurance coverage for contraceptives and sterilization.

Harford County is one of four rally locations in the state; the others are in Baltimore, Ellicott City and Germantown. All will take place outside county or federal government buildings.

Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and some religious-based organizations that insure themselves are upset, calling the mandate contrary to their religious beliefs.

The issue has become a hot button political one as well, pushed primarily by conservative, pro-life Republicans.

"We just want to stand up and make our voices heard that we oppose this [health and human services] mandate that violates religious freedoms," Susan Andrews, a Colora resident who plans to attend the Bel Air rally, said.

Andrews said she has been assisting in spreading the word about Friday's rally.

"We're hoping it will be rescinded," she said of the mandate. "Be done away with in one way or another."

According to the rally's official website, http://www.standupforreligiousfreedom.com "Thousands of Americans of all faiths will be participating in these peaceful rallies, organized by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society to oppose the new mandate from theU.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that requires all employers provide free contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs through their health plans, even in violation of their consciences."

Andrews says they're expecting about 50 people to attend Bel Air's rally, though there are no firm numbers. No speakers had been lined up as of Wednesday afternoon.

"I think it's terrible that people would be required to not follow their conscience," she said.

President Barack Obama had previously announced an "accommodation" for religious organizations that are self-insured and object to having coverage for contraceptives and sterilization procedures. In those cases, the insurance companies, and not the organization itself, would be required to provide the coverage for free.

Andrews, however, said that proposal would be a "no win situation for everybody."

"They can't go against their conscience and do something morally evil," she said.

Andrews believes these institutions would still have to cover the costs, having it come out of their premiums, and said the option of not providing health benefits to employees is no option at all.

"It's a tragedy," she added.

No registration is needed to attend the rally and, according to the Stand Up for Religious Freedom website, signs will be provided.

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