Anti-Healthcare Act Rally Marks Beginning of a Nasty Election Season

Yesterday, on a freakishly warm Friday in March, a well-organized crowd of 600 or so people gathered before Independence Hall in Philadelphia to protest the second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. They had signs that said “Obamacare is Socialism” and “Protect the First Amendment.” One lady carried a crucifix hung with Lady Liberty (the Inquirer has a pic with its coverage).

One speaker after another, swathed in the rhetoric of patriotism, fulminated against “Obamacare” and its supposed intrusion upon religious freedom. Prominent pro-life activist, Reverend Paul Schenck, a founder of Operation Rescue, urged opposition to the recent mandate by HHS that insurance products cover birth control without copays. He said resisting it was the way to protect the right to religious freedom in a democratic society. In all the speeches, there was nary a mention of the compromise solution that President Obama recently provided that takes religious institutions out of the loop of having to provide employees with birth control.

There was a small, hardy crowd at the periphery providing a counter-protest in favor of birth control. They stood their ground with signs that read “Don’t Force Your Mythology on My Uterus” and “Birth Control Saves Lives.” But many in the attending pro-life crowd took offense. It’s hard to believe that there are those, especially women, who so vehemently oppose birth control, but I heard it myself when a woman attendee told a reporter that birth control is abortion and she does not condone murder. It gave me a slightly queasy feeling to realize that scientific evidence meant nothing to her in the face of her religious belief, what she ‘knows’ to be true.

The rally itself was a show of opposition to the Affordable Care Act clothed in the sacrament of religious freedom just as was the Blunt Amendment and other similar legislation still moving in Congress.  The undercurrent was God and country, old-fashioned anti-abortion rhetoric, and what they, the speakers and the attendees too, ‘know’ to be true. A sea of small flags waved after every pronouncement.

Two summers ago, across the country, Tea Party members disrupted the Town Halls that members of Congress had planned to educate their constituents about the Affordable Care Act. I well remember several of those events. I went hoping to get some actual information only to watch the proceedings be hijacked by some Tea Partier to whom reason meant nothing (nor did the idea of speaking in turns), whose sole purpose was to shout down “Obamacare.”

How insurers and employers ended up being entitled to greater freedoms in the minds of the religious than the individual, I do not understand. How in the world anyone can posit that employers or insurers should have the ability to substitute their ‘conscience’ for another’s medical decisions defies ration in a democratic society. Only in their Catholic world is the insurer the good guy. Well, come to think of it, most hospitals (at least in Philadelphia) are self-insured, so, likely, are the Catholic hospitals. A double-dip of self-interest there, I’d say.

The strong-arm tactics of the Tea Party right, and their understanding of what is true and right should give every American who believes in tolerance as a necessary basis for democracy pause to worry. No doubt they were emboldened by their 2010 midterm wins, and well they should be. In their narrative, they are fighting for their very souls, and your too. This is war: civility and tolerance are out the window.

I fear it’s going to be a long hot angry summer.

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