The Connecticut Tea Party movement changed course and ventured into the realm of social issues Monday at a rally commemorating the third anniversary of its formation.
Taking a cue from the Republican presidential candidates, Tea Party Patriots departed from their traditional focus on fiscal policy to weigh in on an Obama administration requirement that religious affiliated employers provide free contraception under health care plans. The mandate has been condemned by the Catholic church and other religious employers.
The rally, held on the steps of the Supreme Court, saw Tea Party activists like former attorney general candidate Martha Dean sharing a platform with Family Institute Executive Director Peter Wolfgang.
Wolfgang reminded the group that two years ago at a Tea Party rally he brought them greetings from “the other half of the conservative movement, the social conservative movement.” The two halves are tied together, he said.
“Social conservatism is sort of the canary in the coal mine. We’ve been saying for a long time that if you take away the family, if you take away the church, if you take away voluntary institutions, the only thing left is government,” he said.
Wolfgang said their opposition to the mandate was not an effort to ban contraception, rather it was about the federal government violating the rights of religious institutions. He likened it to forcing a kosher deli to provide customers with bacon.
“This is an attack on the religious beliefs of all of us,” he said.
He encouraged the rally-goers to contact U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman and encourage him to support a bill that would amend health care law to allow religious institutions to decline to cover contraception without being penalized.
Lynn Herlihy said though she was not Catholic she came to the rally because the mandate was a violation of the First Amendment.
“The Catholic church has every right to say what it pays for. I’m not advocating it not be done, but I don’t think the Catholic church should be forced to provide this in their health care plans,” she said.
Dean said religious organizations and “people of conscience” are now joining together with the Tea Party because both groups are for freedom.
“It’s not about a particular denomination, it’s not even about being religious. It’s about our conscience, it’s about doing what’s right and taking the risks and the steps personally to do what’s right and to protect others, those who end up being victims of all that’s to come,” she said
Dean warned of “dark days ahead,” making several references to the conditions under Nazi Germany. She said she wasn’t sure whether it would still be legal to rally on the steps of Supreme Court in a few years.
“Sometimes it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission and when you live in a society where nothing, just normal things are illegal and you have no way of ascertaining what is legal, sometimes it’s necessary to take things into your own hands and do what’s right even though it may be illegal,” she said.
In protest, Dean tore up a copy Labor Department regulations which bar minors from working certain jobs.
The Connecticut Tea Party’s first rally was also held on the steps of the Supreme Court exactly three years ago. About 100 people attended Monday’s rally.