The politically charged atmosphere in Wisconsin has transformed people’s front yards from beautiful landscapes to public statements: Democrat vs. Republican, Tammy Baldwin vs. Tommy Thompson, Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney.
Linda Clerkin never got involved in this type of outward protest until this past May when she put up a Vatican flag and two yellow banners, one saying “We Will Not Comply” and “Viva Cristo Rey” (long live Christ the King) in black letters.
“With everything that’s been happening out of Washington (D.C.) I always knew it was a matter of time before they came after the church. It always is,” Clerkin said.
She lives with her mother, Carole, on Superior Street in Bay View and suffers from multiple sclerosis.
The banners are in protest of the Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate that requires employers, including Catholic organizations, to provide contraceptive health care to female employees despite religious beliefs.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have repeatedly described the mandate, which violates church teaching, as a restriction on religious liberty.
Clerkin describes herself as an “old news junkie,” a former Community Newspaper Inc. (now, Community NOW) reporter, who attends daily Mass at the Basilica of St. Josaphat.
“I was horrified, but I wasn’t surprised when this was announced,” Clerkin said.
One day in May, Clerkin was having lunch with her mother and said she “just saw it.”
“I’m putting up banners in the front yard; I’m putting a Vatican flag up, too,” Clerkin said.
Clerkin went to the Flag Center in Wauwatosa to buy a Vatican flag. She remembers it being a hot day and she went after she got off work at the unemployment office in Milwaukee.
“They had one left,” Clerkin said. She told the employees what she wanted on the other two banners. “It cost me over 100 bucks … but it was worth every penny.”
First thing she had to do when she got the banners was water the front lawn. The summer drought had made the soil hard and with her medical condition, it was difficult to put everything up, but she was determined.
“We thought we would take it down within two weeks and then we’re like, ‘No, it’s gonna stay up.’ Gonna stay up until this is done,” Clerkin said.
“Viva Cristo Rey” was the battle cry for religious liberty during the Cristero War in Mexico that occurred from 1926-1929. Clerkin said one of her heroes was Blessed Miguel Pro, a Jesuit priest who was a key individual in the fight for religious freedom and was eventually executed by the government.
“I just love him,” she said. “I wish there was more written about him … we weren’t taught about this.”
Clerkin said she attended St. John the Evangelist School, Greenfield, and never knew the history of the Cristero War until she started reading on her own recognizing that “it didn’t happen a million miles away.”
Since raising the banners, Clerkin and her mother said they haven’t received negative responses.
“We receive little notes in our mailbox,” Carole said. “People walk by and ask, ‘What’s that all about?’ and I explain it to them.”
One day when Clerkin was at work, a business card was placed in their mailbox with the word “BRAVO” written on it. She called the man when she got home.
“He told me he was a retired Navy vet and said something quite astounding to me,” Clerkin said, adding that he was also Catholic and supported her.
“He said, ‘I’ve served my country all my life, and I never thought the enemy of my country would be my own government.’”
The mother-daughter team see themselves as “church militants” in the fight against the HHS mandate.
“You toughen up. You keep going. You don’t lay down,” Clerkin said, noting the contentious political climate.
Clerkin and her mother hope their signs not only cause people to find out more about the issue but, considering their home is a little more than a mile from the Cousins Center, the Sisters of St.
Francis motherhouse and Saint Francis Seminary, inspire seminarians, priests and other lay people.
“I wanted Archbishop (Jerome) Listecki and any priest that’s going in there or seminarians to know that (they) are not alone,” Clerkin said. “We’re with ya. I am anyway. If it gives them a boost to let themselves know that they’re not alone…Amen.”