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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Missouri is in the midst of a legislative fight to expand Medicaid in the state. On Tuesday, hundreds of activists, including clergy, packed the Missouri State Senate, demanding health care for all Missourians.
Now, Missouri’s faith leaders are calling on one specific member of that assembly in a new radio ad. State Senator Kurt Schaefer has been vocal in his opposition to Medicaid expansion, which would bring health coverage to more than 300,000 Missourians. People of faith believe that Medicaid expansion is a moral issue, and know that thousands are living without access to life-saving treatment for preventable, chronic conditions. 700 people will die in the state this year without Medicaid expansion.
The radio ad, which began airing Monday, features Rev. Jim Bryan of Missouri Faith Voices. Rev. Bryan is a retired pastor with the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia. You can listen to the ad here.
Faith in Public Life is proud to partner with PICO National Network and Communities Creating Opportunities on this life and death issue.
Click here to learn more about the radio ads.
Here’s the full text of the ad:
In Missouri, a hardworking single mother of three is diagnosed with breast cancer.
She can’t afford health insurance, but because of the size of her family and her income, she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid. Each day she prays to God that she won’t get sick.
I’m Reverend Jim Bryan, retired pastor of the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia. Heartbreaking stories like this are sadly all too common – because Missouri makes it harder than almost any other state to qualify for Medicaid.
Have the politicians forgotten Jesus’s admonition that: “Whatever you did to the least of your sisters and brothers, you did to me”?
Call State Senator Kurt Schaefer at (573) 751-3931 and tell him to stop blocking Medicaid Expansion which could save 700 lives per year.
Tell him all God’s children should get the health care they so desperately need.
A message from the Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance.
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Today at the Vatican, President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time.
While detailed reports of the meeting aren’t out yet, there certainly wasn’t enough time to cover all the issues on which they share common concern. Climate change, staggering economic inequality, poverty, the plight of immigrants and refugees, and international conflict resolution all need focus from the world’s most powerful political leader and most recognizable faith leader. Given Pope Francis’s condemnation of “an economy of exclusion” and President Obama’s recent reference to those warnings, I think and hope that addressing the staggering gap between the wealthiest few and those left behind figured prominently.
Still fighting for affordable healthcare
Four years and several days ago, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. Now, after seemingly endless repeal attempts and obstruction, along with a very rocky rollout, the law is getting a chance to work for millions of American families.
While there are many challenges ahead, I’m proud to say that faith groups are playing a crucial role in making the law work.
But right now the biggest obstacle is the unconscionable decision by politicians in 25 states to reject the federally funded expansion of Medicaid. Fortunately this has become a rallying cry for the Moral Mondays movement in several key states. This movement will only grow stronger as conservative politicians’ immoral obstruction continues.
Faith groups such as NETWORK, Catholics United and PICO National Network were instrumental in the healthcare reform legislative debate in Washington. It’s only fitting that clergy and congregations are carrying on the fight in state capitals where politicians are making the lethal and immoral choice to deny their citizens the care they need.
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