Rally puts emphasis on religious freedom

When Mark Tribby reached the back of the small crowd gathered Monday night on the steps of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, he unfurled a white flag bearing a pine tree and the words “Appeal to Heaven.”

With the flag hoisted above the crowd of more than 80, he listened as speakers took to the podium for the Second Annual Rally for Religious Freedom.

The rally was part of the Fortnight for Freedom, which is a two-week period of prayer and events introduced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It began June 21 and ends on Independence Day. The group called for the observance to address “many current challenges to religious liberty,” according to the USCCB Web site.

Speakers took turns at the podium, shifting from readings of scripture and scholarly articles to songs of praise. The rally, which lasted more than an hour, was bookended by the patriotic lyrics of the national anthem and America the Beautiful.

The Rev. Jerry Ragan, of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church, said the rally was held largely due to uncertainty of what future government actions and court rulings hold.

“If it proceeds like this, some of the traditional values that society is based on will begin to fade away,” he said.

Among the issues discussed were same-sex marriage, an issue that Ragan said, if made legal, would infringe on Catholic beliefs.

“It’s important that we show tolerance toward all people, and we let all people know that they are loved and welcomed by God,” he said. “But God has called us to live in a certain way.”

Nicole Rangel, who is working toward a master’s degree in Catholic theology at the Catholic Distance University, addressed the crowd on Christian persecution around the globe.

“I just want to acknowledge that there are people dying for doing what we are doing today,” she said. “It’s not like in the Bible where you read about the saints getting killed back then. It’s current. We’re blessed to be in a country where we can do something like this today.”

With a focus on domestic issuses, Tribby said he attended the event for the opportunity to peacefully protest against the U.S. government. “It’s forcing us to choose between obedience to God or obedience to the government,” he said. “It shouldn’t be that way in America.”

Tribby explained his decision to bring his flag, often called the Appeal to Heaven Flag or the Pine Tree Flag, was symbolic.

“It comes from a saying that if all appeals to government or legislatures failed, all we have left is appeal to heaven,” he said. “It’s a statement that we need to appeal to God for freedom.”

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