Local clergy hand out condoms at Aurora Hobby Lobby store

A small group of clergy and representatives from Planned Parenthood handed out condoms Wednesday evening in front of a Hobby Lobby store in Aurora in response to this week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving the company.

Rev. Mark Winters of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Naperville said he organized the demonstration after making a half-joking post Monday on his Facebook page.

The post mentioned handing out condoms in front of a Hobby Lobby store in response to the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that some companies with religious objections can avoid the contraceptives requirement in the Obama administration's health care overhaul.

"It just kind of started out as a joke," Winters said. "It started out to show that not all Christians are opposed to contraceptives."

But after getting a lot of response, Winters decided it would be worthwhile to follow through with a demonstration that included the distribution of condoms and other materials donated by Planned Parenthood.

The group stood outside the store at Route 59 and 75th Street and handed materials to people as they walked into the store. The demonstrators did not approach anyone with children.

Winters said his purpose was threefold.

He said he hoped people who happened upon the demonstration would walk away with an understanding that Christians have a wide variety of opinions regarding birth control.

In addition, he hoped it would get people to question whether the court ruling was fair to the religious freedom of Hobby Lobby employees who have beliefs differing from their employer.

"You can make the religious freedom argument, you can make the argument about contraception, but ultimately, for me, this is about power," he said.

Questioning the use of power, he said, was the third reason he organized the protest.

"Jesus had a lot of issue with powerful people using power over the powerless," he said.

The issue of power was also the primary reason Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher, a recently retired minister of the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville, agreed to attend the demonstration.

"We are all in this together and the point is to work things out together (in a way) that allows people a way to exercise their own beliefs," she said. "The health care law is meant to cover a diverse society ... so people aren't excluded. What this has done is exclude."

Belcher was representing herself, and not the Unitarian Universalist Church, at the demonstration. She did note, however, that the church has a statement of conscience that says reproductive rights are human rights, and that includes access to all forms of reproductive care that are legal.

"I'm just hoping that (people who see the demonstration) realize that this opinion (of Hobby Lobby's owners) is not the opinion of religious people as a broad spectrum, but that religious people have many different opinions," she said.

Winters said members of his congregation have varying opinions on contraceptives and he respects fellow Christians who say their opposition to birth control or abortion is part of their Christian faith.

"We believe in the freedom of individual conscience (and) support the rights of others to have their individual conscience respected," he said.

Hobby Lobby officials referred inquiries about the demonstration to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the company in court. Becket Fund spokeswoman Emily Hardman said that the company has not released any statements regarding protests at its stores.

Mark Black/mblack@dailyherald.comThe Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher a retired minister of DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville, and Rev. Mark Winter, minister of First United Church of Christ in Naperville join other activists outside a Naperville Hobby Lobby where they will distribute condoms in support of reproductive health and show their opposition to the Supreme Court decision.
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