Thousands of people rallied Friday at the Kansas statehouse with Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the state's Roman Catholic bishops against a federal mandate for health insurance coverage of birth control, protesting it as an attack on religious freedom.
The event was part of a nationwide "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign organized by Catholic bishops nationwide in opposition to the policy announced in January by President Barack Obama.
Speakers urged the crowd to keep protesting the mandate and remain active politically.
Obama's administration sees the policy as an attempt to ensure that women have access to contraceptives, but the Catholic bishops and other social conservatives said it would force employers to provide the coverage even if they're affiliated with churches opposing birth control for moral reasons.
The mandate included an exemption for houses of worship but not religiously affiliated hospitals, charities, universities and social service agencies.
Obama later said he would require insurance companies to cover the cost instead of religious groups, but the bishops and other critics consider that inadequate.
Brownback called it "an affront to people of faith."
"Freedom is a gift from God, not a privilege a government is entitled to take away," Brownback said. "This unconscionable mandate must not be allowed to stand."
A dissenting Catholic opinion comes from James Salt, executive director of the advocacy group Catholics United. He said it is "demeaning" to Christians who face harassment and even death in other nations to suggest that American Catholics are persecuted. He also said the bishops are emphasizing "a marginal" issue when they've been too quiet about war, poverty and economic inequality.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., said that though the church is active in combating poverty and other ills, "this strikes at our very identity."
"If we lose this battle and our right to really define ourselves and to hold true to our own convictions, then we're not going to be able to be effective in any other battles," he said.