By Patti Brown
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, alongside Catholic Bishop Richard E. Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines, led more than 1,000 people Sunday afternoon from St. Ambrose Cathedral down Locust Street to the east side of the Iowa State Capitol in a celebration of religious freedom. The 1.7 mile march was part of a national Fortnight for Freedom a two-week campaign of prayer vigils and rallies aimed at drawing attention to what Catholic churches and other-faith based organizations consider government attacks on religious freedom.
Ann Block, a Catholic who belongs to St. Francis Parish in West Des Moines, said she first saw a Facebook posting by Joe Happe about the walk that encouraged her to take part. “Then we heard about it again this morning at church and we decided this was just something we really needed to do,” said Block.
Miriam Fox, a non-denominational Christian and recent transplant to Des Moines from Davenport, learned about the walk this week while attending a meeting of the Polk County Republicans Central Committee. “I came to stand up for religious freedom and I am concerned that one-sixth of our economy has been taken over by this whole health-care bill,” said Fox who works as a neuro diagnostic technologist.
Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference was pleased with the number of people who participated in the event. “This is a pretty good turnout considering how hot it is,” said Chapman after arriving on the lawn just east of the Capitol. The temperature at noon topped 90 degrees in downtown Des Moines.
Agriculture reporter Ken Root who emceed the program of scripture, songs, prayers, reflections and remarks called the gathering “a celebration of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” “We are here to pray, and be educated and to spread the Word,” said Root.
Holding a small U.S. flag, Gov. Bradstad welcomed the crowd that had gathered near the WWII Freedom Memorial and said that “everyone should take responsibility for their own health.” The day before the governor had participated in a parade from the Capitol to Veterans Auditorium which he noted was geographically “down hill” compared to today’s walk which was an “up hill” hike. Bishop Pates remarked that the governor’s words were symbolic of the “up hill” task ahead in fighting the threats to religious freedom, including the HHS mandate.
Bishop Pates also acknowledged other public officials who participated in the event including Des Moines City Attorney John Sarcone and Urbandale City Councilman Mike Brown.
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