STEUBENVILLE - Speakers warned of danger to religious freedom in the country during the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally Saturday held near the parking lot of the First Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Through speech and song, speakers encouraged the hundreds gathered to make their voices heard about what they contend is the federal government eroding freedom of religion. The rally was part of 130 across the nation Saturday, including a similar rally in Pittsburgh earlier in the day. The event began with a Mass at St. Peter's Church before those attending walked to the rally holding placards expressing freedom of religion-related themes.
The event was organized by Tom Venditti of the Knights of Columbus Council 11828 and included a coalition of local clergy, students from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, local politicians and others to protest the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate for insurance companies to offer birth control and abortion services for employees of religious organizations and churches. Venditti, who also acted as master of ceremonies, told the gathering to vote their faith.
EXPRESSING BELIEFS — Stephen Sammut, a psychology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, speaks to the faithful during the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally Saturday in Steubenville, The rally was organized by Tom Venditti of the Knights of Columbus Council 11828 and held near the parking lot of the First Westminster Presbyterian Church.
-- Mark J. Miller
"We're all filled with God's spirit," he said, adding the day was a time for both Democrats and Republicans to stand up for religious freedom.
Marshall Myers, grand knight for the Knights of Columbus, led the gathering in prayer and a moment of silence before saying freedom of religion was one of the bedrocks of the Constitution.
"We are here to celebrate (that freedom) in Steubenville, Jefferson County and the nation," said Myers, adding it didn't matter if those attending "had a 'D' or an 'R' beside their name. (I'm asking) if we'll be a nation where all people have liberty. Our government is redefining our faith. We are here to say, 'Stop.'"
Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci said he considered himself a "conservative Democrat" but also willing to stand up for religious freedom.
"That tradition (of religious freedom) will continue to carry on," said Mucci, adding the city should be proud of both Eastern Gateway Community College and the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Mucci also asked the crowd to pray for the elderly, young people, safety forces and "servicemen and women in harm's way. Together, prayer works."
Amy Young, a senior at Franciscan majoring in theology, said just like the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were now in the history books, so would some day be the movement to protest restriction of religious freedom.
"This will also be part of history," said Young of the movement. "We are (God's) image in the world. We have to vote to glorify God. Our country was founded on (the ideals) of religious freedom."
Stephen Sammut, a psychology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and a Maltan native, said his parents left Malta because of religious persecution. He added he was concerned the same religious intolerance could come to America.
"I'm not an American citizen. I'm a legal permanent resident here. I can't vote. So why should I care?" asked Sammut.
He said his parents left Malta and eventually ended up in America, where they "realized the generosity of the people and the intrinsic spirituality" other countries lacked."
"The easiest thing to say is that it can't happen here," Sammut continued. "It can, and it will, if you don't act."
Sammut also said as a scientist he knew that "abortion does cause (psychological) disorders" and "life begins at conception."
Keynote speaker Michael Hernon, vice president of advancement at Franciscan University, said outside secular forces were trying to force the city to change its official logo "because there was a cross in it. We're not ashamed of the cross. It's happening right here in Steubenville."
Hernon went on to criticize the Obama administration for not enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act. He also said the government shouldn't be able to "tell us who is or who isn't considered a minister. Who defines what is or isn't religious enough?"
Hernon said religious freedom in America was being attacked, and the issue wasn't just over contraceptives but over a government "telling churches what they can and can't do. An unjust law can't be (observed) in this country. The (Catholic) Church will not back down (challenging Obamacare)."
Additional speakers included Gary Hallberg of the Word of Life Fellowship and Charles Menk, vice president of Promise Production.
(Miller can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)