Religious leaders launch push for health care reform

An interfaith coalition — Muslims, Christians and Jews — unveiled a “40 Days for Health Reform” campaign Aug. 10. It will mobilize people of all faiths to press Congress to enact health care reform that protects “all God’s children.”

Religious leaders, in a telephone news conference, released a new television ad that blasts the insurance companies for spending millions to block health care reform to insure “higher profits.”

They also announced that on Tuesday, Aug. 11, there will be “district prayer events” in 100 congressional districts while Congress is in recess.

On Aug. 19, President Obama will participate in a call-in to Congress by thousands of people of all faiths urging lawmakers to pass pending health care reform legislation.

Then, from Friday, Aug. 28 through Sunday Aug. 30, the coalition is promoting “Nationwide Health Care Sermon Weekend.” Rabbis, imams and pastors are being asked to preach on health care reform based on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Sept. 1-18, the coalition plans large-scale meetings in key states with members of Congress, with a major interfaith mobilization in the nation’s capital Sept. 14.

The religious leaders deplored right-wing, corporate fear-mongering aimed at blocking health care reform.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, an evangelical Christian group, accused the extreme right of spreading “lies about health care reform, euthanasia being one of them.” He was reacting to statements by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin that President Obama’s health care plan is “evil.”

Palin claimed that the administration’s proposal to extend Medicare coverage to include voluntary “end of life” consultations is a scheme to set up “death panels.”

“Health care reform upholds the sacredness of life” Wallis said. “It is really irresponsible to promote that kind of fear.” He pointed out that all the proposed reform packages are “neutral” and do not change existing laws on abortion and euthanasia.

“Our health insurance system is broken, it’s unjust,” Wallis said. “Our soul is sick because our health care system is so sick. People don’t realize that health care reform is a life and death issue. Those without health coverage die younger.”

Churches, he said, try to play the role of “good Samaritan, helping those left by the side of the road by our broken health care system. But it can’t be fixed one person at a time.”

He blasted the disrupters who are shouting down members of Congress during town hall meetings. “They want to shut down democracy, stop the conversation,” Wallis said, calling for “a moral conversation.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said the Jewish community supports health care reform “to insure that the poor and the vulnerable do not fall through the cracks.”

“We hope people keep their eye on the 47 million without health care insurance … the millions of children who are without coverage,” Saperstein said. “This is a human rights issue” that reaches across all partisan and religious lines, he added.

A letter was sent out to rabbis urging them to devote sermons to the issue of health care reform during the Jewish High Holy Days in September, he said. “Our health care system is the most expensive in the world, the highest administrative costs. Yet millions are falling through the cracks. We can do better, a universal health care program that covers everyone.”

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the 13,000-member Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., charged that the misinformation being spread by the far-right and insurance companies “is clearly an attempt to make people afraid,” in order to block health care reform.

He told the news conference he is constantly reminded of members of his congregation, like a young man stricken with early-onset arthritis who cannot get insurance because insurers call his illness a “pre-existing condition.” Another is a 57-year-old parishioner who lost his health insurance when he was laid off.

The phone conference was organized by the PICO Network, a nonpartisan national network of faith-based community organizations working to solve problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities.

Linda Filippini, a PICO lay leader of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Melbourne, Fla., said she and her husband, owners of a small business, pay $1,500 in monthly premiums for private health insurance. “My husband is diabetic,” she said. “He is waiting to turn 65 next year when he will qualify for Medicare.” But once he retires, she will no longer be able to afford the private coverage.

“It’s really unfair for people to be denied care because of pre-existing conditions,” she added.

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