By Paul Kurtz

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia-area Catholics and other pro-life supporters rallied today outside Independence Hall against Obama administration’s health care mandate that they say forces religious institutions to pay for services that are against their beliefs.

Waving banners and American flags, hundreds of protesters cheered as a number of speakers lashed out at the Health and Human Services mandate that, in effect, forces insurance companies to pay for contraception.

“This perverse mandate must be resisted, and the right to religious freedom and conscience which are beyond the reach of any government, much less one which claims to be democratic, must be protected and defended,” said Rev. Paul Schenck, a cofounder of “Operation Rescue,” at today’s rally.

The mandate has become a lightning rod in recent weeks, and today was no different.

This rally, part of a nationwide protest, also attracted a  small group of counter-protesters, and it didn’t take long for the two sides to get into it.

“How does abortion save lives?” said one person.

“How is birth control abortion?” replied another.

It’s an issue that’s not going away.  The Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania have designated next Friday to be a day of prayer and fasting.

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