Faith groups hold day-long vigil against ‘sinful’ GOP health care bill

Leaders called health care a “God given right.”

Rabbi David Saperstein addresses the crowd in front of the Capitol. CREDIT: Jack Jenkins/ThinkProgress
Rabbi David Saperstein addresses the crowd in front of the Capitol. CREDIT: Jack Jenkins/ThinkProgress

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Faith groups are holding a 23-hour vigil in front of the U.S. Capitol to protest the GOP health care bill, calling the proposal “sinful” and describing health care as a “God-given right.”

Roughly 150 people of faith gathered outside Congress on Wednesday afternoon to kick off the demonstration, with a diverse array of religious leaders voicing spiritual opposition to the stalled Better Care Reconciliation Act.

“I call it the Billionaire Care Reconciliation Act,” Rev. Dr. Kip Banks, a Progressive National Baptist Minister, told the crowd.

Condemnations of the bill were plentiful, with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders describing the legislation as “immoral,” “sinful,” and a law that “does not show mercy.”

Dr. Sarah Kureshi of the American Muslim Health Professionals. CREDIT: Jack Jenkins/ThinkProgress

“[This bill] should be opposed by every person of faith,” said Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, head of the Jewish advocacy group Bend the Arc.
Almost all of the speakers questioned the ethics of the proposed bill’s cuts to Medicaid, which helps poor Americans, while offering tax breaks for medical businesses and the wealthy. Several also cited the recent Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill, which estimated that 22 million people will lose health care coverage over the next 10 years if it is implemented.

Attendees in the crowd were quick to name their own frustrations as well. Bobbi, a hospice volunteer who drove from West Virginia to participate in the vigil and who didn’t provide her full name, noted that the bill will have dire effects for elderly. Most nursing homes residents, for instance, pay for their stay and care with Medicaid — not Medicare.

“The impact [of this bill] will be devastating, absolutely devastating,” Bobbi, who said she came to the vigil after hearing about it from a Quaker group, told ThinkProgress. “The people in nursing homes right now will literally be on the street. This is not a country that should put the elderly on the street…We’re gonna see more people die.”

Attendees of the vigil outside the Capitol building.
Attendees of the vigil outside the Capitol building.

Jessie Smith, who works with the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, said she would be praying late into the night as part of the vigil. Her passion for health care, she said, is rooted in her faith.

“God believes in everyone’s dignity and worth,” she said. “Everyone should have access to a life that is abundant and full, and that abundance can only happen when the community is supportive of everyone.”

The demonstration is part of growing wave of faith-based opposition to the GOP-led effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Earlier this week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement calling the bill “simple unacceptable,” saying that those impacted “are real families who need and deserve health care.” And on June 9, a group of 34 religious organizations sent a letter to Congress calling on lawmakers to protect Medicaid.

“God believes in everyone’s dignity and worth.”

The Capitol prayer vigil, which is sponsored by a over a dozen religious denominations and organizations, is scheduled to continue through the night and into Thursday, with different groups assigned to pray at different times. The event will conclude with another panel of high-profile religious speakers, including Sister Simone Campbell and Rev. William Barber II.