Religious leaders, politicians and residents rallied against a government-mandated birth control provision during a protest held Friday in favor of religious liberty.
About 300 protesters attended the downtown to show opposition to a birth control mandate issued by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. The mandate would , regardless of religious moral conviction.
Several politicians and religious leaders spoke in favor of overtuning the HHS mandate, including Attorney General Sam Olens and Republican Candidate Martha Zoller, who is running for U.S. House Representative for Georgia's 9th District, which includes northern Clarke County.
Olens told protesters he hoped the HSS mandate would be ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court during an impending decision on the legality of the Affordable Care Act.
"It is vital that you stand up rather than many Americans that stand down and have watched this president take away our rights," Olens said. "It is my hope that protests such as today will not be necessary after the end of June, because if we win in the Supreme Court on the individual mandate issue, then the regulation by the HHS secretary is moot."
Friday's protest was one of dozens held across the nation opposing the HHS mandate, which some critics see as an affront to religious liberty. The Stand Up Athens Rally is also part of a larger Catholic movement seeking to overturn the ACA on First Amendment grounds.
Several supporters outside of the Catholic faith stood in solidarity with Friday's protesters. Adam Harwood, a professor at Baptist college Truett-McConnell in Cleveland, said he would refuse family health care on moral grounds if the HHS mandate is not repealed.
"Unless the HHS mandate is rolled back either by judicial or legislative action, then participating in this system that so many of us regard as immoral will be mandated — required. There is no opt out," Harwood said. "I plan to join my Roman Catholic friends in action. I will subject myself to years of incurring fines by the IRS, and if necessary I will find myself sitting in jail because I will not comply with this law."
Olens, who helped file a lawsuit in conjunction with other states to challenge the constitutionality of the ACA, said opposition to either the ACA or the HHS mandate "has nothing to do with health care." Many other speakers echoed Olens' statement, saying the HHS mandate was created to dictate religious teachings rather than provide broader health care access to women.
"[The mandate] has to do with whether our federal government is limited by certain enumerated powers or whether Congress can simply pass any bill they want, taking away our rights," Olens said. "The federal government has no role in interfering with religion. They should just look to the founding fathers of our country."