Teresa Flack grew up in Poland under a communist regime.
“We didn’t have freedom of speech,” she said Friday during a Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally in Naples.
She said she now sees the U.S. government dictating conscience, and finds it appalling.
Flack was one of about 2,000 protesters who gathered at the corner of U.S. 41 and Pine Ridge Road to voice opposition tor the federal Affordable Health Care Act and its mandate that employers’ health care plans provide contraceptive services at no cost.
They cheered the Rev. Frank J. Dewane, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice, who spoke at the rally and had a letter read at diocese parishes last weekend, urging the faithful to support it.
Dewane said there is a political agenda behind the Health and Human Services requirement for employers to provide comprehensive insurance coverage despite religious and moral objections.
It is “so offensive and so coercive,” Dewane said.
The rally was one of many held nationwide Friday by the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” movement, backed by a coalition of religious groups across the country. The coalition is led by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society. The Naples Pro-Life Council and MariaNews.com of Ave Maria University in Naples are members.
While most in the crowd turned out to support Dewane, a few were there to defend the new health care mandate.
Charles Theisen said states have long mandated full insurance coverage for employees, and that Americans have a responsibility to provide adequate health care for all.
Wendy Grassi, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, has said rather than an attack on religious freedom, the opposition to the mandate is an attack on access to basic health care. Providing contraception coverage would prevent unintended pregnancies and prevent abortions, she said.
Meanwhile, a Gallup poll released May 22 found 82 percent of Catholics in America and 89 percent of all Americans believe contraception is “morally acceptable.”
Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, but it does apply to church-related institutions.
While a few loud debates broke out, there wasn’t any violence, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. There were no arrests.
Ann Milcetich of Naples was low-key but emphatic in her support of the protest.
“We have a right to our conscience,” she said before Dewane’s speech.
Gerda Hansen was a baby in Austria when the Nazis came to power.
She said she wondered what would have happened if the Catholic Church had stood up like this to protest Hitler’s policies. She wondered whether such rallies could have changed history.
Diane Geisler said the government is “encroaching on everything.”
Friday’s rally was not her first. She has joined tea partiers who share the same complaint.
Standing up is an American responsibility, said Flack, who moved here in 1991. American unity is wonderful, she said.
What it tells her is that “we are not going to be led easily by a dictator,” Flack said.