Separate rallies at Missouri Capitol protest federal health care law, state labor legislation

Thousands of people crammed into the Missouri Capitol and spilled out across its lawn Tuesday as religious groups and unions held nearly simultaneous rallies decrying federal health care policies and state legislation affecting workers.

Inside the Capitol, thousands of people clad in red condemned President Barack Obama’s policy requiring insurance companies to cover the costs of providing free birth control to women working at religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and colleges. Church leaders from several Christian denominations said religious freedoms are under assault.

Outside the Capitol, thousands of union members wearing bright orange and green shirts rallied against efforts by the Republican-led Legislature to pare back wage requirements on public works projects and to make Missouri a “right-to-work” state in which union dues cannot be a condition of employment. Rally leaders said workers’ rights are under assault.

The crowds for the duel gatherings were some of the largest in the past decade at the Missouri Capitol, which hosts gatherings for interest groups on a nearly daily basis during the legislative session. Capitol Police provided no official crowd estimate.

Adding to the intensity of the religious rally was the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments Tuesday on a challenge to the constitutionality of the 2010 federal health care law, which requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty beginning in 2014. Also stirring the crowd was the fact that the state Senate was debating legislation Tuesday that would allow employers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control and abortions.