CHICAGO, March 20, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Christians opposed to the Obama administration’s mandate forcing all employers, including religious employers, to cover abortifacient drugs and contraception are planning to stage a nationwide demonstration on Friday - one that organizers say has grown far beyond what they had anticipated.

Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League said that thousands - and possibly tens of thousands - are expected to join together in 129 U.S. cities against the mandate, including as many as 16 U.S. Catholic bishops.

(To find the location of a rally near you, or to help organize a local rally, click here.)

Obama administration officials last week said that they would commence another 90-day comment period on the mandate. As part of that announcement the administration outlined various ways that employees of self-insured religious organizations would be able to get the drugs for free, and also noted that the mandate would extend to health care plans for students at universities, including religious universities opposed to the mandate.

Now, just over a month after President Obama confirmed the mandate in its final form, the heated backlash against the administration’s decision has made religious freedom a buzzword in Christian churches across the United States.

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Bryan Kemper, Director of Youth Outreach for Priests for Life, which is part of the coalition behind the nationwide protest, said he believes that the Obama administration “has woken a sleeping giant.”

“What we are seeing is a Christian unity like we have never seen before,” Kemper told LifeSiteNews.com. “What we would like to see is for the American public - not only Christian, but all of us who believe in the Constitution - to stand up and tell the Obama administration this is not a dictatorship and we will not be ok with this in America.”

Scheidler said that the movement is being supported in areas across the U.S. by local pro-life leaders, such as Priests for Life in New York, the Christian Defense Coalition in D.C., and the Survivors in Los Angeles - but most of all, by the countless sidewalk counselors and everyday pro-life activists.

“We hoped we’d get maybe 50 cities,” said Scheidler, who came up with the idea of a nationwide rally with fellow pro-life activist Monica Miller. But he says demand quickly became overwhelming, and his office is now sending thousands of signs across the country.

“I’m getting so many emails and so many phone calls, and I’m getting the kind of phone calls I don’t usually get,” he said, describing one caller who asked if he “had to bring a sign” to the rally.

“This is someone who has never gone to a protest before!” said Scheidler. “It’s an incredibly intense level of excitement.”

The protests will take place at noon outside federal buildings across the country.

Scheidler - who is expecting 400-500 participants in his own Chicago rally - said that there are two things that “really deeply offend” those anxious to speak out against the mandate.

“The one is that the HHS mandate treats motherhood like motherhood is a disease,” he said. “We have the federal government strong-arming the people to force employers to give them free abortifacient drugs, contraceptives, and sterilizations because they consider motherhood a disease.”

Scheidler said that most of the people he had spoken to who were upset about the mandate were women “who cherish their fertility as a gift and don’t consider it a disease.”

Second, he said, people were offended that the Obama administration “has taken it upon itself … to decide for religious institutions what constitutes their mission.”

“The federal government has decided that what they’re doing in answer to Christ’s command that we clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, et cetera, is no longer considered religious activity,” he said, referring to the extremely narrow religious exemption in the mandate, which applies only to places of worship, rather than all religious organizations.

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