A group of about 75 mostly Catholic supporters of President Donald Trump’s gathered Sunday in South Philadelphia for an anti-abortion rally, the Trump campaign’s first event in the city since the president contracted the coronavirus and was hospitalized.
Randall Terry, an anti-abortion activist who has been leading a “Stop Biden Express” bus tour, asked the crowd to implore their Catholic friends not to vote for the Democratic nominee because of his support for abortion rights.
“Our mission from this day to Nov. 3 is very simple: to suppress the Joe Biden Catholic vote. Our mission is to suppress the Joe Biden Catholic vote,” Terry said at Marconi Plaza. “So whether they vote for Trump or not is a separate issue. And the way we do that is we say to them, ‘What you do to the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, you do to Jesus.'”
A lifelong Catholic, Biden has said he is personally opposed to abortion, but believes that women have a legal right to have one. He was denied the sacrament of eucharist by a priest last year while attending Mass in South Carolina due to his stance on the issue. If elected, Biden would be the second Catholic president, following John F. Kennedy.
Trump, who identifies as Presbyterian but is seen by most Americans as not religious, according to surveys, has been a staunch supporter of anti-abortion policies and judges during his term.
The Trump campaign has made energizing religious conservatives a major focus, especially after his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Sunday’s event did not attract a counter-protest by Trump opponents, as some others have. And although it took place in Marconi Plaza, home of the Christopher Columbus statue that the city has already covered and is planning to remove following clashing demonstrations this past summer, that imbroglio was not mentioned by any of the speakers.
Sister Dede Byrne, a Catholic nun and U.S. military veteran who spoke at the Republican National Convention, was the featured speaker at Sunday’s event. Byrne said she believed Trump would survive and benefit from his coronavirus infection.
“So many are praying for him. He’s going to be fine. He’s going to get through this COVID thing,” Byrne said. “I guess God wanted everyone to know Trump is a tough guy. He’s going to get this, he’s been protected, and he’s going to get stronger.”
About one-fifth of Americans are Catholic. After being a solidly Democratic voting bloc until the middle of the 20th century, the faith is now split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. A majority of white Catholics voters are Republicans, while about two-thirds of Hispanic Catholics are Democrats.
Despite Trump having been infected by the coronavirus following his frequent refusal to wear a face mask, at least 35 attendees did not wear face coverings at the outdoor event. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a face mask in public settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the city of Philadelphia has required it since June.
Debra Mazda, 66, said she wears masks indoors and sometimes outdoors, but forgot to bring one to the rally. Mazda, who hugged several people at the event, said she prefers not to wear one if she isn’t in a situation where she is required to, such as at work.
“I’m one of the people who believe most of it was a scam anyway” said Mazda, who lives in New Jersey but is from South Philadelphia.
Mazda’s friend Marie Ciarrocchi, who attended the rally wearing a mask, cut in.
“Just like Trump — he didn’t wear the mask, and now he’s got the virus,” Ciarrocchi said.
“I’ve done a lot of research on it, and I really believe the numbers are skewed," Mazda responded.
More than 209,000 Americans have died in the pandemic, including more than 8,200 in Pennsylvania and 1,800 in Philadelphia.