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On Wednesday, February 17, the capital of Kansas held a rally for the protection and advancement of religious freedom in America. The event took place over the lunch hour in the relatively small rotunda of the city’s Capitol Building. The Facebook event page said that 534 people were invited, 45 people were interested, and 64 were going. Those numbers were a mere fraction of the turnout that assembled – proof that you can’t always trust the numbers.
From where I was, all I could tell was that it was standing-room only, flooding up into the upper levels and balconies from which people could look down into the rotunda. Later we got a better idea of just how many people had come out to support religious liberty – the event committee had made 1000 buttons for attendees, and they had run out. The capitol police estimate that there were 1500-2000 people in attendance.
As I stood in the rotunda of the Capitol Building, a few older women and a young priest ended up gathering around me. At noon, as we waited for the rally to begin, the women and the priest began to say the Angelus quietly to themselves. I joined in when I recognized the prayer, and we all stood, looking around the State Capitol at the 2000 people as we prayed in the quiet of our hearts in the middle of the noise of the throng. It also kept us from complaining that the event wasn’t starting on time.
Only in America. For now, anyway.
Benedictine College’s Sarah Swafford acted as emcee for the event, introducing the program’s speakers: Ryan Anderson, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation; Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Washington who is being sued by a long-time customer for refusing to do an arrangement for his same-sex wedding; Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University and supporter of the Little Sisters of the Poor in their lawsuit against Obamacare; Hernan Castano, Senior Pastor of Rivers of Oil Church in Texas and one of five pastors subpoenaed for sermons against homosexual marriages; Jeanne Mancini, organizer of the annual March for Life; and Sam Brownback, Governor of Kansas and Catholic convert. The rally was opened with a prayer led by the lead pastor of the Topeka Bible Church, Jim Congdon, and it was closed with a prayer led by the Archbishop of the Kansas City, Kan. diocese, Archbishop Naumann.
Halfway through the event, we stopped to sing “God Bless America.” The sound of 2000 people, on four levels of balcony, singing and echoing through the Capitol Building, was amazing. It gave everyone a break from speakers, of course, and it got everyone excited about why they were there. But it also made us realize what we could lose.
Real supporters of religious freedom are supporters of religious diversity, and of the diversity of social, political, and economic beliefs that comes from a diversity of religious beliefs.
I saw that diversity at the rally in Topeka. Every speaker and audience member acknowledged that standing for religious freedom means standing for a person’s ability to hold a different religious belief, and that acknowledgment was made cheerfully every time.
Something like the rally in Topeka is a rare thing, even in America. But even if you can’t attend a big public event for religious liberty, you can still fight for it by joining the Memorare Army here.
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).