Jennifer is the founding CEO of Faith in Public Life. Before leading FPL Jennifer spent ten years working in the field of international human rights representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the United Nations and is an ordained minister.
While the long-term consequences of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby are unclear, it was no victory for religious liberty as the concept has been understood for hundreds of years. Rather, the decision was another radical expansion of corporate power by the Roberts court, and a permission slip for CEOs to use religion as a pretext to refuse coverage of birth control.
The implications are vast. Even though the ruling applies specifically to “closely held” corporations rather than publicly traded ones, 90 percent of American businesses are classified as closely held.
These corporations don’t have souls. They are legal entities created by humankind, not living beings created in the image of God. Endowing these artificial institutions with the same religious freedom that you and I have is both theologically troubling and legally dangerous. While the ruling itself addressed only contraception coverage and explicitly was not applied to related issues such as vaccination coverage and LGBT discrimination, it could set a legal and cultural precedent for assertion of a corporation’s “religious” right to discriminate or to deny coverage of crucial healthcare services.
The Hobby Lobby decision is also a threat to the health of women workers, and a blow to pro-life and pro-choice Americans who share a common-ground commitment to reducing abortion. I’ve read well-reasoned analysis predicting that the ruling will not jeopardize access to contraception, but there is no guarantee of that outcome. In fact, shortly after the ruling was announced, a federal court of appeals granted an injunction against the contraception-coverage mandate for a television network. Keep in mind that the IUD contraception methods Hobby Lobby specifically objected to are the most effective means to prevent unintended pregnancy, have been shown to significantly reduce the abortion rate, and can be prohibitively expensive for working women. As unintended pregnancies increase, so do abortions.
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If you want to see the power of faith to serve the common good, there are few better places to look than our nation’s religious hospitals and healthcare facilities. Their generous commitment and humble service show that the teachings of our faiths are truly life-giving, not just letters on the pages of Scripture.
Unfortunately, some of these providers and the people they serve are being directly harmed by politicians blocking Medicaid improvements in 24 states. Mercy Health, one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the country, just laid off 220 people thanks in part to this immoral obstruction. People are not only being denied health insurance, but also being prevented from providing healthcare.
The impact of Medicaid refusal is measured not only in illnesses untreated and thousands of lives cut short, but also in jobs lost and economic hardship. It’s unconscionable.
In state after state, faith leaders are taking this issue head-on. In Virginia, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and allies hold weekly prayer vigils for Medicaid expansion in front of the state capitol in Richmond. And last week, when State Sen. Phillip Puckett (D) resigned his office in apolitical tradeoff that allowed Republican lawmakers to block Medicaid expansion, they swiftly and publicly condemned the move.
Last month, clergy leaders of Missouri Faith Voices shut down the state Senate with a massive demonstration in favor of immediately closing the Medicaid coverage gap, and FPL recently held a press conference call with key faith leaders from Georgia, Florida and Missouri – as well as the head of the Catholic Health Association – lifting up this same message.
As people of faith, we know that every person matters in the eyes of God. Sooner or later, the extremist politicians who are depriving their constituents of healthcare will get the memo too.
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Last year, the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina boldly confronted the extremist agenda set forth by the state’s governor and legislature and completely transformed the political conversation in the Tar Heel state and across the country.
This week, they got back to work.
On Monday morning, clergy and laypeople led by Rev. William Barber II returned to the state capitol in Raleigh to resume the campaign to defeat policies that restrict voting rights and devastate struggling families. Hundreds marched quietly with their mouths taped shut to protest the legislature’s use of obscure rules to clamp down on protesters’ ability assemble at the statehouse. This kind of political maneuvering shows just how scared these politicians are – for good reason.
As the 2014 elections approach, the force of the Moral Mondays movement only promises to grow. At the Moral March that brought 80,000 to Raleigh earlier this year, Rev. Barber brought the crowd to a peak when he said “we will pray, we will get off of our knees and work, we will speak truth to power…and we will voter like never before!”
This fall, the eyes of the nation will be on a handful of US Senate and gubernatorial races where issues like Medicaid expansion will weigh heavily on voters’ consciences. No political ad or stump speech can shape the debate and speak truth to our better angels like a faith-led mass movement.
Forward together . . . not one step back!
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I had the honor of speaking at the Brookings Institute last week with scholars and faith leaders about economic justice and the future of the progressive faith community. We heard from many perspectives and communities, but one message was clear – building a moral economy will be a central unifying cause in the years ahead. And in an age of rigid political polarization, a new moral narrative will be critical.
One part of remedying economic injustice is lifting up working families who are trapped in poverty. Sadly, many politicians just don’t get it. Yesterday 41 Republican Senators voted to block a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, permanently index the minimum wage to inflation, and increase the tipped wage to 70% of the minimum wage. While this measure is just one step in a long journey, it would give a badly needed raise to 25 million workers.
A day before the vote, FPL and Interfaith Worker Justice released a letter signed by more than 350 clergy from diverse traditions calling on Congress to increase the minimum wage, which said in part “Driven by Scripture’s repeated admonitions against exploiting and oppressing workers, we believe that every job must enable those who work to support a family.”
The press teleconference announcing the letter featured leaders from Catholic Charities USA, the Progressive National Baptist Convention and Interfaith Worker Justice, as well as U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Senator Cory Booker. They not only emphasized the moral consequences of this issue, but also rebuked of those who voted to keep working families in poverty. Rev. Dr. James Perkins of the Progressive National Convention captured the essential truth of the matter, saying ““People who are opposed to raising the minimum wage are more interested in their economic ideology than they are in providing struggling people with the dignity of work.”
Overcoming this obstacle might take a while, but justice will be done.
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On Sunday, a former Ku Klux Klan leader attacked two Jewish centers in Kansas City, taking the lives of the three people just before the beginning of Passover. Such horrors are difficult to comprehend at any place and time, but especially so in religious communities around holy days. It is a time for grief and prayer.
This Holy Week was already filled with somber remembrances of senseless violence in our nation, from last year’s Boston Marathon bombing to the anniversaries of the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings. But as our friends at Faiths United to End Gun Violence have noted, we must also remember another anniversary: one year ago this week the U.S. Senate failed to stand up to the NRA and pass commonsense background check legislation.
Such legislation might have stopped Sunday’s killing spree. The shooter in Kansas City purchased his gun through a so-called “straw buyer” – someone with a clean background who buys guns for others – a practice that the Senate bill would have cracked down on.
While scripture reminds us there is a time for everything, clearly this is a time to act to end this needless destruction of innocent life. Faith in Public Life stands with groups like Faiths United to End Gun Violence and PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing campaign in calling on Congress to act now to prevent gun violence. As we enter the 2014 election season, we must keep these life and death issues close to our hearts and lift up our voices until they echo in the halls of power.
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