People of faith and other supporters came together outside the Supreme Court on Monday for a time of song and testimony in defense of the Affordable Care Act. On Monday the Court began hearing three days of arguments on the constitutionality of the law passed in 2010, which ensures all Americans have access to affordable health care.
The gathering serves as a statement of solidarity among the faithful progressive community in response to the religious rhetoric often employed by opponents of affordable health care. Leaders from Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish traditions spoke to 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,” says 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.”
The debate over the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality falls at the intersection of two hot-button issues in the 2012 election cycle: religious liberty and the economy. Those who oppose the law are particularly incensed by the Department of Health and Human Services’s mandate that all employees of religiously affiliated institutions—such as Catholic hospitals—must have access to contraceptive coverage, claiming this provision violates their institutional conscience.
But this week’s assembly puts forth an alternative faith-based narrative. The religious leaders argue that affordable health care is consistent with scriptural injunctions to provide basic human rights protections for all, and that the Affordable Care Act advances this 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,” says Sister Simone Campbell of the Catholic economic and social justice group Network Lobby. “This is exactly what the ACA does.”
Faith leaders feel the Affordable Care Act also addresses the moral issue of economic inequality in America. “It is the working-poor families in our society who are the most in need of health care coverage,” says Sister Campbell. “Wealth inequality is exacerbated by the lack of affordable, quality health care in our nation.”
Rev. Cynthia Abrams, program director of health care of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, highlighted the practical and deeply personal benefits of the law allowing youth to stay under their parents’ coverage until the age of 26. She tells a story of her nephew, a 25-year-old man who was hit by a drunk driver and who 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.
For faith leaders it is not only the reality that a single accident can bankrupt a working-class family if it is unable to afford adequate health care coverage. They also recognize that their clergy and congregants’ daily lives are profoundly affected by the availability of health care. Rev. Abrams says her denomination is “feeling the crunch” of the economic recession. She pointed out that the high cost of health care leaves local churches unable to cover their own pastors, secretaries, youth workers, and janitors. The reduction of health care costs under the Affordable Care Act now allows churches to provide more employees with more coverage.
In this election year politicians and pundits are using health care to score political points. Those gathered on Monday, however, are a reminder that for many people, health care for all is a deep matter of faith. “We will keep on keeping on [after the rally],” says Rev. Abrams. “[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.”
Emily Farnell and Alexandra Scheeler are interns with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.