by Norm Miller

ATHENS, Ga. (TMCNews)–“I commend the Roman Catholic Church for suing the federal government,” said Dr. Adam Harwood, a guest speaker at the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally held June 8 outside the R.G. Stephens Jr. Federal Building in downtown Athens, Ga.

Drawing more than 57,000 people in 164 cities nationwide, the SURF rallies protested what has become known as the HHS Mandate, which is part of President Obama’s “Affordable Care Act” that would require insurance plans to include coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, surgical sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.

Referring to Roe v. Wade and the 43 lawsuits filed by the Roman Catholic Church, Harwood — assistant professor of Christian Studies at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga. — said he affirmed the actions because Roman Catholics have provided significant leadership in the pro-life movement.

However, it was also for reasons of religious liberty that Harwood told the crowd of nearly 300 he was “honored to stand with my friends of another faith, my friends of no faith, but especially my friends of the Roman Catholic faith.”

Harwood said that Guidestone — the Southern Baptist Convention’s self-funded health insurance provider — has spoken against the mandate. “But in your lawsuits, the Roman Catholic Church has taken a stand against it.”

Harwood cited a CBS News/New York Times Poll revealing “68 percent of Americans favor overturning either the HHS mandate or the entire Affordable Care Act. That is great news.”

Of the two polling entities, CBS News and the New York Times, Harwood asked, “Who can charge them with moral conservatism?”

The HHS bill “is a violation of religious liberty. The law is both unconstitutional and unjust,” Harwood said. In addition, unless the bill is rolled back either judicially or legislatively, “then participating in this system that so many of us regard as immoral will be mandated, required; there is no opt-out

“I understand that the killing of an infant in the womb is still legal in this country, which astounds me, but it is legal,” he said. “It should come as no surprise, though, that any person of faith would stand up and say, ‘I’m not gonna pay for that.'”

That statement, like several others, drew sustained applause from the crowd.

Indeed, Harwood does not plan to “pay for that.”

If the U.S. Supreme Court will not strike down the HHS mandate, “then perhaps our politicians will find it within themselves — will find the moral fortitude and the astute understanding of our nation’s Constitution — to roll back this awful legislation,” Harwood said. “If not, here’s my back-up plan: … I will drop my family’s excellent health care coverage, and I will subject myself to years of increasing fines levied by the IRS; and, if necessary, I will find myself sitting in jail because I will not comply with this law.”

In opening remarks, Harwood said he stood in the tradition of Roger Williams, who in the 17th century founded the Providence Plantation colony, later, Rhode Island, and planted the first Baptist church on American soil. As pastor of the church and governor of the colony, Williams served in church and state roles, but argued for their separation under the banner of religious freedom.

“So in the tradition of Roger Williams – advocate for religious liberty – I stand with you,” Harwood concluded.

Emceed by congressional candidate Martha Zoller, the Athens rally included other speakers: Georgia State Attorney General Sam Olens; Anthony Salzman, pastor, St. Philothea Greek Orthodox Church, Watkinsville; John Duffield, deacon, Holy Family Catholic Church, Marietta; Oconee County High School student Allison Duerr, and two candidates for state House of Representatives, Regina Quick (also a Baptist) and Carter Kessler.

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See video of Attorney General Sam Olens’ remarks by clicking here.

Norm Miller is director of communications/marketing at Truett-McConnell College.

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