The Obama-backed health care law has been a rallying cry for religious conservatives since even before it passed. With a challenge to the bill heading to the Supreme Court in coming days, Washington will see a lot of public praying against the measure.
The District is one of more than 100 spots around the country Friday where protesters will speak out against a particular part of the law, the mandate that employers provide coverage of contraception and sterilization. The mandate has galvanized conservative Christians, who see it as strong evidence of the slipping status in this country of their religious beliefs. In a culture that increasingly accepts same-sex marriage and abortion, religious conservatives see the contraceptive mandate as an even more direct threat, since it requires employers to provide services that many religious conservatives consider sinful.
The rallies will take place at noon in cities across the country. In the District, protesters will gather in front of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building on Independence Avenue in Southwest. Organizers say they don’t expect more than 1,000 people at any rally, even in the major cities (other relatively local spots include Front Royal and Baltimore). Among those who gather will be more than a dozen bishops from the Catholic Church, which has led the opposition to the mandate.
The campaign is taking some toll on the president’s standing with Catholics, a massive swing vote Obama won in 2008 . The percentage of white Catholics who said the Obama administration is unfriendly toward religion has nearly doubled since 2009, from 17 percent to 31 percent, according to a new survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Among Catholics overall, that number jumped from 15 percent to 25 percent.
Protests in Washington will continue early next week. On Sunday, protesters will encircle the Supreme Court with more than 3,000 flowers to represent terminated pregnancies. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – when the case is scheduled to be argued – prayer vigils at the court are planned daily from 8 a.m. to noon.
Experts on religion and politics say it's too early to tell the impact of this health-care case on the 2012 presidential race. The argument that Obama is hostile to religion because of his expanded support for reproductive freedoms could inspire voters on either side.