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Here's your religious freedom rally round-up

We got quite a few reader queries along the lines of this note we received from reader Robert:

I wasn't able to attend the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally on Friday. I was looking for coverage, but all I could find was on the Stand Up website itself, and on niche news sources like LifeSite News.

In my home town of Seattle, they report a respectable showing of 900, but almost no media presence.

Why is the media avoiding covering this significant movement?

There were some 150 rallies across the country. I know that there were three or four within the DC area alone. It was certainly interesting that they chose to rally on a Friday at noon in so many different locations, but you have to admit it makes it difficult to cover.

And I don't think it would be possible for us to analyze how -- or if -- those rallies received any coverage, much less good or bad coverage. Do let us know what you thought of the coverage, both local and national.

Considering it was written by Michael O'Malley, a man who seems to have a surprising amount of animus toward the Catholic Church for being on the religion beat, I didn't think this Cleveland Plain Dealer piece about the 1,200 or so folks who came out on Friday there wasn't as bad as the reader who submitted it did. Which isn't saying anything at all. The reader thought the article was filled with loaded language. And it was, or at least the claims of protesters condemning and "blasting" people weren't backed up by the actual quotes in the article. I was more concerned about the supposed birth control expert who doesn't know how abortion drugs work. I think I'm getting so used to how bad the stories are, that I'm just becoming desensitized or something. And I was sort of sad to see nothing of the bishop's reading of this letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Ursuline Sisters back in 1803, which I found quite interesting.

There's a brief item at The Tennessean about the 500 gathered there. The Detroit Free Press played up the "militaristic" language of protesters.

The Dallas-Ft. Worth CBS affiliate ran this story about a couple of local rallies there. USA Today had a brief blog post. They linked to "other Gannett reports from New York City, Nashville, Indianapolis, Rochester, N.Y."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a story for their local rallies. It began:

More than 1,000 Georgians assembled in Atlanta and Athens Friday to protest a federal ruling requiring health care plans -- even those at some religious organizations -- to cover the cost of contraception. ...

At the center of the debate is the fact that the HHS ruling does not exempt some religious groups from the requirement, including hospitals and schools. After an initial wave of protests when the rules were unveiled last month, the administration said it will reconsider those provisions.

Pat Shivers, of the Atlanta Archdiocese, said her self-insured diocese should not be compelled to pay for a service that it considers unethical. "We’re absolutely not going to do it, we are not going to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization."

I think it was just a mistake, rather than the Journal-Constitution breaking news -- to write that the administration unveiled the rules last month and will reconsider those provisions. It does point to the problems with mistaken information that have plagued coverage of this larger issue.

One reader told me something I found somewhat hard to believe. I'd seen that the Twin Cities rally was fairly large and yet literally no one covered it for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. How could that be? I was sure they were wrong. However, I did search the site and came up with nothing on the rally. The Pioneer Press gave it a brief mention in a story about HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' trip to the Twin Cities to praise the health care law:

Events around the Twin Cities on Friday, March 23, show that the federal government's health care overhaul remains divisive.

In Spring Lake Park, the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services and other Democrats gathered to mark the second anniversary of the legislation by highlighting how the law has positively affected the lives of eight local women.

Kathleen Sebelius was joined by Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum in a local woman's living room for a discussion of the law.

Meanwhile, Bishop John Quinn of the Diocese of Winona led a group that packed the plaza in front of the U.S. District Court in downtown St. Paul in prayer opposing the health law's mandate for many employers to provide coverage for contraceptives.

The article is accompanied by heart-rending anecdotes and tons of pictures. Of the Sebelius press event. I was told that there was no coverage of the rally on the local TV stations. "I was just amazed that an event of the size and import as the HHS freedom of religion rally was consciously ignored," said the reader.

If you want pictures of both events, Minnesota Public Radio had some that accompanied their story on the dueling events.

If you're curious about photos, your best bet is to head to Catholic or other sites that gave readers information about the rallies. Here's a round-up of some photos at Catholic Vote. Kathryn Lopez at The Corner has some, too. I also wanted to point out the Washington Post's coverage, which focused on one woman who was at the rally. Yuval Levin, an academic and policy wonk whose work focuses on health care as well as bioethics and culture-of-life issues, wrote of the article:

Mainstream journalists writing about social conservatives often seem like zoologists observing a fascinating but hostile foreign species. To those of us who are members of that particular species, the results are often amusing, if also frustrating. There is plenty of that in this profile, which appeared in the Washington Post over the weekend, but if you can look past it you will find the story of a deeply committed young pro-lifer == Maria Bremberg -- and how she fights for the voiceless and vulnerable even while raising (and home-schooling) four children. ...

The article also highlights a side of the HHS mandate fight that has not seen much light in the Post: the deep concern the mandate has raised about the future of our first freedom, and the way it has energized and focused social conservatives. The writer, Michelle Boorstein, wants to paint all this in purely political colors. But she really tells the story of deeply moral people moved to fight against injustice, and yet able to do so without a hint of cynicism or of alienation because their anger is driven by love.

The article is quite political, and it does have a bit of the "in the mist" feel to it, but I want to commend it for at the very least trying to uncover what's beneath all of this outcry over the mandate, for exploring the motivations involved.

Did anyone see any other coverage, particularly national? I'm pretty sure there was literally no coverage of the rallies on the national networks, although I didn't see any on the cablers either. A reader says he couldn't find anything at "CNN, the New York Times, The Washington Times, the Sacramento Bee, or the L.A. Times." Perhaps others had better luck? There was this NPR piece.

Do let us know what you thought of your local coverage, too.

Also, we did hear from a few folks about why Religion News Service covered the atheist rally in D.C. on Saturday but not the nationwide rallies the day prior. I did want to point out that their coverage of the atheist rally was quite nice and favorable. RNS actually publicized that they were awarded a grant to cover atheists:

Religion News LLC, the parent corporation for Religion News Service (RNS) was recently awarded a generous $50,000 grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation for coverage of the growing community of atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers.

I didn't catch any RNS coverage of the religious freedom rallies, although in yesterday's "Religion News Roundup," they did link to a report from a progressive media outlet on a rally in Ellicott City, Md. I was just thinking about how difficult it is to crowd count -- I am awful at it -- when I read RNS report that the atheist crowd was 8,000 to 10,000 and USA Today gave it 20,000. And since we're on the topic, I wanted to note this Los Angeles Times interview with atheist Nate Phelps, who spoke at the rally, which I thought was really well done.

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