Lawmakers need to be more sensitive to religious freedom and core Christian beliefs, a spokeswoman for the group that organized "Rock the Rotunda for Religious Freedom" in the Illinois Capitol rotunda on June 28 told the Sangamon Sun.
"Lawmakers, both on the state and federal level, should be advocates for religious freedom in addition to other core beliefs, such as the right to life from conception until natural death," Marlene Mulford, communications director of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said in an email interview.
The event's keynote speaker, Hillary Byrnes, a resident of Falls Church, Virginia, and assistant general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), referenced the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia case decided in April by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that 7-2 decision, the high court reversed and remanded a lower court ruling, declaring that separating church and state should not bar religious institutions' access to government grants.
That decision is encouraging, Mulford said.
"Yes, it is very encouraging to hear the Supreme Court rule in their favor -- a true victory for religious freedom," she said.
Byrnes also talked about President Donald Trump’s executive order in May that rolled back a federal mandate that religious employers include birth control coverage in their employees' health insurance plans.
"The president issued an executive order on religious freedom," Byrnes said in comments reported by The State Journal-Register. "We are waiting to see Health and Human Services give a broader religious exemption that really takes into account people’s faith in not wanting to pay for or facilitate services that go against their religious beliefs."
Byrnes heads the USCCB's Committee for Religious Liberty, which was founded in 2011 to address growing concern over the perceived erosion of freedom of religion in the United States and other legal issues that affect Catholic education. The Catholic Diocese of Springfield oversees 129 parishes in 28 counties in Central Illinois.
The rally, attended by more than 150 people, was part of the diocese's "Fortnight for Freedom" -- June 21 through July 4 -- sponsored by the diocesan Office for Pro-Life Activities and Special Ministries.
The theme of this year’s observance is "Freedom for Mission" and is intended to spread the truth of the Gospel, an idea created by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, who also offered comments during the rally.
"The first observance began in 2012," Mulford said in her email. "Since then, Fortnight events have been undertaken by dioceses across the U.S. This is the fifth year of observance."
Paprocki reportedly emphasized the Gospel message of love during his comments.
"Jesus loves everyone, and the Catholic Church loves everyone, and I love everyone," Paprocki was quoted in The State Journal-Register. "But Jesus also called people to repentance. In fact, he started his public ministry by calling people to repent. He said 'repent and believe in the good news of God’s love.' I think that’s a message that oftentimes is overlooked these days, the call to repentance. We are all sinners; we all need to convert. Jesus doesn’t just leave us where we are and say, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ He calls us to virtue and to a greater life."