Here’s your religious freedom rally round-up

We got quite a few reader queries along the lines of this note we received from reader Robert:

I wasn’t able to attend the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally on Friday. I was looking for coverage, but all I could find was on the Stand Up website itself, and on niche news sources like LifeSite News.

In my home town of Seattle, they report a respectable showing of 900, but almost no media presence.

Why is the media avoiding covering this significant movement?

There were some 150 rallies across the country. I know that there were three or four within the DC area alone. It was certainly interesting that they chose to rally on a Friday at noon in so many different locations, but you have to admit it makes it difficult to cover.

And I don’t think it would be possible for us to analyze how — or if — those rallies received any coverage, much less good or bad coverage. Do let us know what you thought of the coverage, both local and national.

Considering it was written by Michael O’Malley, a man who seems to have a surprising amount of animus toward the Catholic Church for being on the religion beat, I didn’t think this Cleveland Plain Dealer piece about the 1,200 or so folks who came out on Friday there wasn’t as bad as the reader who submitted it did. Which isn’t saying anything at all. The reader thought the article was filled with loaded language. And it was, or at least the claims of protesters condemning and “blasting” people weren’t backed up by the actual quotes in the article. I was more concerned about the supposed birth control expert who doesn’t know how abortion drugs work. I think I’m getting so used to how bad the stories are, that I’m just becoming desensitized or something. And I was sort of sad to see nothing of the bishop’s reading of this letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Ursuline Sisters back in 1803, which I found quite interesting.

There’s a brief item at The Tennessean about the 500 gathered there. The Detroit Free Press played up the “militaristic” language of protesters.

The Dallas-Ft. Worth CBS affiliate ran this story about a couple of local rallies there. USA Today had a brief blog post. They linked to “other Gannett reports from New York City, Nashville, Indianapolis, Rochester, N.Y.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a story for their local rallies. It began:

More than 1,000 Georgians assembled in Atlanta and Athens Friday to protest a federal ruling requiring health care plans — even those at some religious organizations — to cover the cost of contraception. …

At the center of the debate is the fact that the HHS ruling does not exempt some religious groups from the requirement, including hospitals and schools. After an initial wave of protests when the rules were unveiled last month, the administration said it will reconsider those provisions.

Pat Shivers, of the Atlanta Archdiocese, said her self-insured diocese should not be compelled to pay for a service that it considers unethical. “We’re absolutely not going to do it, we are not going to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization.”

I think it was just a mistake, rather than the Journal-Constitution breaking news — to write that the administration unveiled the rules last month and will reconsider those provisions. It does point to the problems with mistaken information that have plagued coverage of this larger issue.

One reader told me something I found somewhat hard to believe. I’d seen that the Twin Cities rally was fairly large and yet literally no one covered it for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. How could that be? I was sure they were wrong. However, I did search the site and came up with nothing on the rally. The Pioneer Press gave it a brief mention in a story about HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ trip to the Twin Cities to praise the health care law:

Events around the Twin Cities on Friday, March 23, show that the federal government’s health care overhaul remains divisive.

In Spring Lake Park, the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services and other Democrats gathered to mark the second anniversary of the legislation by highlighting how the law has positively affected the lives of eight local women.

Kathleen Sebelius was joined by Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum in a local woman’s living room for a discussion of the law.

Meanwhile, Bishop John Quinn of the Diocese of Winona led a group that packed the plaza in front of the U.S. District Court in downtown St. Paul in prayer opposing the health law’s mandate for many employers to provide coverage for contraceptives.

The article is accompanied by heart-rending anecdotes and tons of pictures. Of the Sebelius press event. I was told that there was no coverage of the rally on the local TV stations. “I was just amazed that an event of the size and import as the HHS freedom of religion rally was consciously ignored,” said the reader.

If you want pictures of both events, Minnesota Public Radio had some that accompanied their story on the dueling events.

If you’re curious about photos, your best bet is to head to Catholic or other sites that gave readers information about the rallies. Here’s a round-up of some photos at Catholic Vote. Kathryn Lopez at The Corner has some, too.

I also wanted to point out the Washington Post‘s coverage, which focused on one woman who was at the rally. Yuval Levin, an academic and policy wonk whose work focuses on health care as well as bioethics and culture-of-life issues, wrote of the article:

Mainstream journalists writing about social conservatives often seem like zoologists observing a fascinating but hostile foreign species. To those of us who are members of that particular species, the results are often amusing, if also frustrating. There is plenty of that in this profile, which appeared in the Washington Post over the weekend, but if you can look past it you will find the story of a deeply committed young pro-lifer == Maria Bremberg — and how she fights for the voiceless and vulnerable even while raising (and home-schooling) four children. …

The article also highlights a side of the HHS mandate fight that has not seen much light in the Post: the deep concern the mandate has raised about the future of our first freedom, and the way it has energized and focused social conservatives. The writer, Michelle Boorstein, wants to paint all this in purely political colors. But she really tells the story of deeply moral people moved to fight against injustice, and yet able to do so without a hint of cynicism or of alienation because their anger is driven by love.

The article is quite political, and it does have a bit of the “in the mist” feel to it, but I want to commend it for at the very least trying to uncover what’s beneath all of this outcry over the mandate, for exploring the motivations involved.

Did anyone see any other coverage, particularly national? I’m pretty sure there was literally no coverage of the rallies on the national networks, although I didn’t see any on the cablers either. A reader says he couldn’t find anything at “CNN, the New York Times, The Washington Times, the Sacramento Bee, or the L.A. Times.” Perhaps others had better luck? There was this NPR piece.

Do let us know what you thought of your local coverage, too.

Also, we did hear from a few folks about why Religion News Service covered the atheist rally in D.C. on Saturday but not the nationwide rallies the day prior. I did want to point out that their coverage of the atheist rally was quite nice and favorable. RNS actually publicized that they were awarded a grant to cover atheists:

Religion News LLC, the parent corporation for Religion News Service (RNS) was recently awarded a generous $50,000 grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation for coverage of the growing community of atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers.

I didn’t catch any RNS coverage of the religious freedom rallies, although in yesterday’s “Religion News Roundup,” they did link to a report from a progressive media outlet on a rally in Ellicott City, Md. I was just thinking about how difficult it is to crowd count — I am awful at it — when I read RNS report that the atheist crowd was 8,000 to 10,000 and USA Today gave it 20,000. And since we’re on the topic, I wanted to note this Los Angeles Times interview with atheist Nate Phelps, who spoke at the rally, which I thought was really well done.

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  • Jeff

    “Mainstream journalists writing about social conservatives often seem like zoologists observing a fascinating but hostile foreign species.”

    All they need is pith helmets and mustaches to make the great white hunter or white man’s burden schtick complete.

    They are nineteenth century imperialists, out to exterminate the brutes.

    Watch out all you Zebras and Zulus, Mr. Kurtz is coming and he’s got a press pass.

  • Dan Andriacco

    500-800 demonstrators on the steps of the Catholic cathedral on Friday rated a sentence the next day in The Cincinnati Enquirer in part of a story about the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. There was also a close-up shot of about three people. In today’s Enquirer, 500 people rallying in Cincinnati for Trayvon Martin rated a front page story and a big headline with a photo that actually shows a crowd. As a recovering journalist, I’m appalled.

  • Ivan

    Unfortunate that Friday at noon precludes one major American religious group from participating entirely. Any mention in the coverage of Muslim involvement?

  • John M.


    After the prior 3 months of coverage, there’s no doubt in my mind that the best coverage I could get in the MSM would be of the “in the mist” variety. They have no idea who I am or what motivates me. I’d be very pleased to receive the kind of respect they would accord to a tribal group in Papua New Guinea. Normally I get willful ignorance or outright hostility. The media’s swallowing the whole “war on women” trope is in the latter category. The religious liberty side did not pick this fight, and that’s just a fact.


  • Ray Ingles

    An atheist with journalistic experience thinks the 8-10K number for the “Reason Rally” is more accurate.

  • Ray Ingles

    The Detroit Free Press played up the “militaristic” language of protesters.

    The text says “Some used militaristic language”; and provides actual quotes to that effect. It also has a lot of actual quotes from people there, that put those remarks in context. Should it have been handled differently? If so, how?

  • Mollie


    I honestly don’t know if it was handled properly or not, so I tried to handle it gingerly.

    The reader who sent it in seemed to think that the reporter handles certain protests more favorably than others, citing some coverage of politically liberal protests. He said he thought the reporter cherry-picked a quote and tends to present traditional Christians in a harsher light.

    I wasn’t there. I know that we did cite the reporter for disparate treatment before, but I can’t speak to rally last week.

  • Deacon Michael D. Harmon

    I attended the rally in Portland, Maine (the first in the nation, chronologically) where the paper said about 120 attended, which was close to my estimate of 150. The 20-inch story topped 1A the next day with a photo of a sign-carrying protester on the front and an overall crowd shot on the jump. While the story didn’t even mention the Catholic priest who spoke, it did mention there were a variety of Christian groups represented, including evangelical state leaders and a Russian Orthodox priest (and an Episcopal priest (!) as well. Overall, it was a fair piece and is available online at from last Saturday.

  • SouthCoast

    “Any mention in the coverage of Muslim involvement?” I agree. Also Jewish involvment. Just FYI, I did notice one woman at the San Diego rally who was wearing what, in ordinary circumstances, I would have interpreted as a Muslim headscarf. Whether she was, in fact, Muslim, I have no idea.

  • Rachel K

    I attended the Ellicott City rally, and while the problems in the article about the rally are too numerous to count (you know you’re in for it when the article uses the phrase “anti-choice;” also, I like how the reporter describes the connection between increased contraception rates and increased abortion rates as “unscientific anti-contraception propaganda” without, y’know, addressing the idea), it got some things right. I like that she observed how many women were there, and how diverse we were in age, although I wish she’d pointed out that we actually outnumbered the men. Also, while it’s good journalism for her to point out that we had hecklers, I wish she’d also made mention of the people who drove by cheering and giving us the thumbs-up. But for a progressive report on the rally, it could have been a lot worse.

  • Jerry

    I have a problem with a group appropriating a neutral expression, religious freedom, to promote their point of view and the media going along with that expropriation. One can be in favor of religious freedom but disagree that the health care law and especially the recent changes by the administration infringe on religious freedom. This point of view is the invisible pink elephant in the media room.

  • Mollie


    I agree that the range of religious liberty viewpoints should be included in coverage. Even among those people who see this as a religious liberty issue, there are differing beliefs. Is there a particular example of the media “going along with that expropriation” that comes to mind for you?

  • Cathy

    I was at the rally in Rockford, IL. There were around 400 people attending. Some were Lutheran and some were in what looked to me like muslim atire. There was a camera crew from local chanel 13 out of Rockford. I have not seen any news footage or any articles in local papers. This is very sad that all these people across the nation took time out of their busy lives and there is no media coverage. I am greatly disappointed in out local paper. For Shame.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Well, Jerry, the media are complicit in the expropriation of lots of nice words that we can’t use anymore because people who expropriated them with the complicity of the media have changed their meaning. Terms like… Gay. Choice. Reproductive health. Person. Marriage.

    The difference is that the meaning of “religious liberty” is not being changed. It still means what the First Amendment says. It’s a matter of interpretation and application of the First Amendment, but not about the meaning of the term. And the protests were precisely about the application of the First Amendment.

    Or do you see that the protestors and the media are collaborating to change the meaning of the term? What other term would be more accurate? What else are the protestors protesting for?

    In other words, it could be argued that proponents of legalized abortion talk about the right of the woman “to choose,” but they really don’t give a fig about women’s rights because what they are really concerned about is the right of the physician to perform the procedure and make money doing it. (I’m saying it could be argued this way.) Choice, choice, choice, is what they say, but money is what they mean. Is there something similar going on here on this issue?

  • Syte

    Madison, WI had a great turnout, 500 people.
    Also a bit of media coverage.
    Photos, media links, Bishop’s comments at

  • Harris

    In W Michigan, the rally on the Plaza got 400 or so, and coverage by broadcast and the remnant of the old newspaper (aka MLive). The MLive coverage was a bit more sensationalistic in quotes, the broadcast report (WZZM) tried to place in broader context of the Catholic teaching and of the upcoming SCOTUS hearing.

    The mix of Tea Party types made this a bit forgettable. Probably to the regret of the actual organizers.

  • Rachel

    I was at the Rally in front of the HHS building–coverage was slim at best. I took a couple pictures of the not-so-tiny crowd and posted them on my blog.

  • John-Andrew

    Inspiring Anti-HHS Mandate video, only 2 minutes long!

    Please SHARE to help spread the word!

  • Ann Rodgers

    Here’s what we had in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: