ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN, March 23, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a college town known for its liberal politics, more than 400 people gathered at noon Friday to support religious liberty and oppose the Obama administration’s HHS mandate.

Just blocks from the University of Michigan, more than 400 people formed the local meeting of the National Rally for Religious Freedom held simultaneously at 146 locations nationwide.

Joined by schoolchildren from local Catholic schools, including Spiritus Sanctus Academies, the speakers focused on the constitutional crisis unleashed by forcing a religious institution to violate its conscience.

Nick Thomm, the executive producer of the nationally syndicated radio show “Kresta in the Afternoon,” said, “At Notre Dame in 2009, President Obama promised conscience protection. It’s pretty clear he lied.” He stated current coverage is a step toward full, federally funded abortions.

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“As the bishops said, this fight is not about or contraception abortion, or a compromised Catholic Church,” Thomm said. “This is about the power of the federal government to define what is or what is not the mission of Christians” in a “voluntary institution.”

“To sixty million American Catholics the president has said that to be good Americans, we must be bad Catholics,” Thomm said.

Although churches and houses of worship are exempt, the guidelines for religiously affiliated institutions to gain a religious exemption are “impractical, impossible, and illogical.” Requiring religious institutions to “serve their own kind and hire their own kind” means “in hiring, you’re forced to ask a question that’s normally a violation of EEOC practices.”

“Must Catholics hire and feed only Catholics in their food pantries?” Thomm asked. “Until today, you did not need a baptismal certificate for soup.”

Meeting near the local Occupy Wall Street campsite, the throng of mostly young people received virtually no opposition and no organized counter-demonstration.

Instead, speakers encouraged the crowd to fight to preserve the Constitutional rights of their forebears. Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, a nun from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, said God “has given us these rights, and we must proclaim them in the streets…It is our responsibility to stand brave and to shout to the world.”

“Today is a day in which we need heroes,” the sister said. “We value our freedoms and since they do not come freely, we beg God that we will all be prepared to pay the price, if that should be in the Divine will – to stand with the countless soldiers, heroes, saints, and martyrs through the ages in union with the One Who hung on Calvary.”

Her fellow sister, Sister Martin Therese, said she is proud she became an American citizen two weeks earlier because she cherishes this nation’s founding ideals, however imperfectly they are practiced now.

Fr. Dennis Brown, O.M.V., warned those ideas are in danger. “If this HHS mandate – diktat – passes, the America we knew will be no more,” he said. “That’s not a dramatic statement. It’s not exaggerated. This essentially changes what America is.”

He called this administration’s war on religion “the worst crisis we’ve faced in our history in terms of our basic American identity.”

That assessment cut across religious lines. The president of the university’s Students for Life, Carmen Maria Allen, told the mostly Catholic crowd gathered at the federal building, “I am here to say that as a Protestant leader of Students for Life, the HHS mandate is not about the Catholic Church. And it’s not even about Christianity, and it’s not even about religion. It’s about protecting and preserving the freedoms granted in our Constitution.”

Organizers encouraged attendees to take action after the rally ended.

Everyone asked the faithful to flood Capitol Hill with calls and e-mails asking them to block or repeal the HHS mandate. Nick Thomm also directed visitors to the sign the petition at StopHHS.com. The resource director of Michigan Right to Life, asked everyone to support the state’s Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act. “to protect all those doctors and nurses who object to abortion or abortion-causing drugs.”

Several speakers noted turnout far exceeded expectations. Nick Thomm said at one point, “I don’t think anyone anticipated we would be having these numbers.”

Barb Harburg, who organized the local rally, runs Citizens for Pro-Life Society, said she wanted to inspire others who share her beliefs in the area. “Ann Arbor is a hotbed of liberalism,” Harburg said, “and I felt that we have to make a statement” that “there are a lot of faithful people who believe in religious freedom.”

“Government, by doing what it’s doing now, is already violating our First Amendment rights,” Harburg told LifeSiteNews.com. “It’s absolutely untenable. I’m not going to take that, and I’m not going to stand for that. I’m willing to go to jail, personally.

Dianne Malesko, a local resident who had never attended a pro-life or religious freedom rally before, said she was pleased by the turnout and uplifted by the atmosphere but “saddened by the fact that people don’t understand life is so important.”

“Government wanting to be involved in religion when they never want religion involved in government is unacceptable,” she said.