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As Supreme Court Hearings Kick Off, Faith Leaders Rally Around Obamacare As A ‘Step In The Right Direction’

Our guest bloggers are Emily Farnell and Alexandra Scheeler, interns for the Center for American Progress’ faith and progressive policy initiative.

As the Supreme Court began the first of three days of hearings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), people of faith and other supporters gathered outside the Supreme Court yesterday morning in defense of the health care reform law.

The rally served as a statement of solidarity among the faithful progressive community in response to the religious rhetoric often employed by opponents to affordable health care. Leaders from Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish traditions spoke about the scriptural mandates of taking care of the less fortunate. “Quite simply, we believe the Supreme Court and the decision it makes is a reflection of the moral and ethical character of our people,” said James Winkler, general secretary of the General Board of the Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. “Providing comprehensive health insurance reform ensures every single person in the United States has access to needed care without regard in their ability to pay. To do otherwise is to elevate private insurance interests above the need of human beings.”

Here’s a clip of the Monday demonstration:

The supporters outside of the Supreme Court put forth an alternative faith-based narrative to push back against religious conservatives who oppose the health care reform law. The progressive faith leaders argue that affordable health care is consistent with scriptural injunctions to provide basic human rights for all and that the ACA furthers this spiritual goal. “In the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus challenges us to reach out and care for the vulnerable, respond to the needs of the victim, and bind up their wounds,” said Sister Simone Campbell of the Catholic economic and social justice group Network Lobby. “This is exactly what the ACA does.”

Faith leaders added that Obamacare also addresses the moral issue of economic inequality in America. Reverend Cynthia Abrams, health care program director for the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, highlighted the practical and deeply personal benefits of the ACA allowance for youth to stay under their parents’ coverage until the age of 26. She talked about her nephew, a 25-year-old man who was hit by a drunk driver and required prohibitively expensive treatments to stay alive. Because he was still covered under his parents’ insurance, he received care and survived the wreck. Had he not been covered, his family would be $90,000 in debt.

And it is not only the reality that a single accident can bankrupt a working-class family if they are unable to afford adequate health care coverage. Faith leaders also recognize that the daily lives of their clergy and congregants are profoundly affected by the availability of health care. Abrams said her denomination has also been “feeling the crunch” of the economic recession. She pointed out that the high cost of health care impacts local churches, leaving them unable to cover their own pastors, secretaries, youth workers, and janitors. Under the Affordable Care Act, the reduction of health care costs now allows churches to provide more employees with more coverage.

After the prayers and hymns had finished, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum arrived, turning the tone from prayerful to political. After giving a quick nod to the religious liberty argument against health care, Santorum spent the majority of his eight-minute press conference speaking against Mitt Romney and President Obama’s respective health care platforms. As he spoke, those who remained from the prayerful gathering attempted to drown out his words with prophetic cries of “health care is a right.”

In this election year, politicians and pundits have leveraged health care to score political points. Those gathered yesterday served as a reminder that to many, health care for all is a deep matter of faith. After this rally, “we will keep on keeping on,” Abrams said. “[We] have said that health care is a moral imperative for years and we will continue to care about [it] until this country covers every single person with health care.”