Religious leaders arrested in act of civil disobedience against Senate’s ‘immoral’ health care bill

“Don’t tell me you are ‘pro-life.’”

CREDIT: Facebook/Faith in Public Life
CREDIT: Facebook/Faith in Public Life

Several prominent clergy members were arrested Thursday on Capitol Hill while peacefully protesting the Republican health care bill, describing the legislation as “immoral” and “sinful.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) unveiled a tweaked version of the “Better Care Reconciliation Act” on Thursday, but it does not appear to greatly improve on the previous iteration, which is projected to cost 22 million people people their health insurance over the next decade.

The protest began earlier in the day, when a gaggle of faith-based advocates marched near Congress waving signs that read “protect our health care” and “#LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions).” Afterward, a smaller group of faith leaders from different religious traditions stood outside McConnell’s office, where they voiced their concerns about the various iterations of the GOP effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“Senator McConnell…We are here to make sure you do what you are elected to do,” Traci Blackmon, Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, said. “I happen to know the people of Kentucky will suffer if this health care bill passes. You may be okay. Your friends may be okay. But the people who put you in office will suffer because of this bill.”

“If you can turn your backs on people who are suffering from conditions that are no longer able to be treated, don’t tell me you are pro-life,” she added, her voice rising.

Rev. William Barber II, one of the more high-profile leaders of the increasingly outspoken Religious Left, was similarly unimpressed with the bill.

“This bill, and the attempt to use power to take health care [from people], is sin — it’s immoral,” Barber declared. He also made a clarion call for other religious leaders to join him in protest: “We call on clergy all over this country — it’s time for you now to come here. Even if it means arrest while you’re praying in protest. It’s time for us to come here and make our voices heard on behalf of the least, the sick, the broken, and those that will die if this bill [is passed].”

Two Americans who would be impacted by the health care bill also spoke briefly before Capitol police ordered the protesters to disperse. The group refused, bursting into the gospel hymn “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” before being led away by police in handcuffs.

“We call on our senators today to kill this bill before it kills our people.”

The demonstration is the latest in a stream of faith-based protests against the GOP health care bill in recent weeks.

The Senate bill is generally unpopular, but the issue is personal to many people of faith: a sizable number of religious groups remain deeply supportive of the ACA, and have have been some of the loudest voices decrying the GOP-led effort to undo it. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops described an early version of Republican bill as “simply unacceptable,” and repeated that assessment after the new bill was unveiled on Thursday. In addition, a group of 34 religious organizations sent a letter to Congress urging elected officials not to cut Medicaid in recent weeks, and a diverse band of religious leaders held a 23-hour protest vigil on the Capitol grounds in late June.

Meanwhile, a North Carolina Methodist minister is marching roughly 375 miles from his home state to Washington, D.C. this week to protest the bill, saying potential cuts to Medicaid and other programs may hinder the care of his ailing 9-year-old daughter.

Rev. Jennifer Butler, head of the advocacy group Faith in Public Life, summed up the core message of these demonstrations shortly before being arrested Thursday.

“We call on our senators today to kill this bill before it kills our people,” she said.

This piece was updated to include the USCCB’s assessment of the latest GOP senate health care bill.