Today, the Obama administration announced changes to the “conscience clause” – regulations put into place in the last hours of George W. Bush’s presidency regarding health care providers’ rights to refuse to perform certain health services.
Medical professionals and faith groups such as the United Methodist Church have long called for revisions to the rule, citing its hasty “midnight hour” implementation and potential harm due to its overly broad nature. Nonetheless, some conservative groups have been spreading misinformation about the regulation, erroneously claiming that any changes to the policy would force doctors to provide abortions against their will.
Here’s a quick summary of the changes announced today (the full text of the new rule can be downloaded here):
- The new rule affirms the need for robust conscience protections for healthcare providers, upholding the right of a provider to refuse to perform or assist with an abortion.
- The new rule rescinds the overly broad definitions and terms of the Bush rule that could have limited patients’ access to blood transfusions or other needed health services. It also clarifies the enforcement process for conscience violations.
- The Department of Health and Human Services is launching a new campaign to inform providers of their rights and protections, as well as how to seek help if they believe their rights have been violated.
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Kim Bobo, the executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, has an instructive piece up at Religious Dispatches about the effective organizing “ground game” run by the Unitarian Universalist Association during recent actions responding to Arizona’s draconian immigration law.
She highlights the UUA’s “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign as a model for faith-based activism – some of the only notable denominational organizing muscle on the scene. Bobo points out that the flurry of prayer vigils and demonstrations that were quickly organized in Arizona – events that earned significant media attention – were led by justice groups on the ground, not from institutional church bodies.
The religious community was engaged and integral to most of the local organizing, but the leadership didn’t come from denominational structures. Rather, it came largely from immigrant rights and worker justice groups, which invited religious leaders to participate. Although most faith bodies and denominations have very strong statements on immigration reform, those same denominations did not activate people. With one glaring exception – the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Of the several hundred religious leaders who showed up, only the Unitarian Universalist Association seriously committed staff, money, and organizing talent to the struggle.
It’s exciting to think about what could happen if more denominations started developing similar programs. Well-crafted statements and policy positions are important, but the most eloquent words are not enough to affect lasting social change. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved a nation with his soaring rhetorical grandeur, but the sweat and blood and block-by-block movement building at the local level played a crucial role in bending the arc of history toward justice.
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Rather than portraying the Cordoba House/Park51 Islamic Center and mosque in Manhattan as what it actually is — a center promoting interfaith relations, combating extremism, and offering community programs for people of all religious backgrounds — opponents of the proposed complex such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have stirred up a great deal of publicity by labeling it an “insult” and a “provocation.”
Today more than 40 prominent, diverse faith leaders and religion scholars in New York and across the country issued a statement calling the rhetoric of pundits like Palin and Gingrich exactly what it is — an appeal to “xenophobia and religious bigotry.” The statement, signed by leaders ranging from Simon Greer of Jewish Funds for Justice to National Council of Churches President Peg Chemberlin to Salam Al-Marayati, President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, argues that Cordoba House opponents “would make a more lasting contribution to our nation if they stopped issuing inflammatory statements and instead helped inspire a civil dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims committed to a future guided by the principles of compassion, justice and peace.” The entire statement and list if signatories, including numerous rabbis, is here.
Faithful America – an online community of more than 100,000 people of diverse faiths – is also standing up to anti-Muslim sentiment and fierce opposition to proposed mosques in communities across the country by circulating and signing a petition to honor the “many contributions of American Muslims toward global peace” and denounce bigotry and limits on religious freedom as a betrayal of American values. The petition will be sent not only to American Muslim leaders, but also to Gingrich and Palin. Sign it here.
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Numbers USA, an organization whose goal is “lower immigration levels,” is encouraging their members to take action to stop passage of comprehensive immigration reform, including putting pressure on clergy who speak out in favor of reform. The action alert they sent Friday included the following:
On Tuesday, leaders from a majority of the country’s largest churches held a
meeting in Washington announcing their support for a mass illegal alien amnesty. It’s a sad fact that most of America’s religious leaders hold completely different political views than their members…
…go to your Action Board and send any faxes of protest you’ll find there to your religious leaders.
The premise of this call to action–that there is a divide between the pews and the pulpit on support for reform–is false. Recent nationwide polling shows that a broad range of people of faith overwhelmingly support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Public Religion Research Institute’s national poll released this spring demonstrates that Catholics, white evangelicals, and white mainline protestants all support comprehensive immigration reform— including an earned path to citizenship– by two-to-one margins over an enforcement-only policy. In fact, the poll showed that these three groups favor immigration reform even more than religiously unaffiliated Americans. (The full report is available here.)
Furthermore, PRRI’s research demonstrates that a majority of regular worship attendees approve of clergy speaking out on the issue immigration reform from the pulpit, and Â¾ of regular attendees approve of clergy speaking about the issue in the media and in other public forums such as community meetings.
Also, Numbers USA’s claim that the clergy who spoke out last week support “amnesty” is disingenuous and misleading. What faith leaders mean by comprehensive immigration reform is basically the opposite of “amnesty”–reform would require immigrants who are here illegally to pay fines and any back taxes they may owe, hold jobs, pass background checks, and study English in order to earn citizenship. “Amnesty” might be Numbers USA’s buzzword of choice, but it’s not a remotely accurate description of the policy.
Numbers USA’s false claims and loaded language may motivate their base to attack pastors for standing up for their principles, but we know that clergy leaders won’t back down in fighting to keep families together and fix a system that doesn’t protect our interests or our values as a nation.
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The House of Representatives is currently debating the DISCLOSE Act, which among other things requires advocacy organizations to include disclosure their largest donors in any campaign advertisements. Yesterday a group of nonprofit and community organizations sent Speaker Pelosi a letter expressing their strong disapproval of a provision exempting the National Rifle Association from the bill’s campaign finance transparency requirements. Among the signatories were two faith groups – the United Church of Christ and Women of Reform Judaism.
The letter stated in part:
We strongly believe that the Citizens United decision poses a threat to the integrity of the electoral process and we support legislation that provides for effective disclosure, while at the same time protecting free and independent speech and promoting active participation in elections by individuals and organizations.
However, we must respectfully express our profound opposition to the effort to create an exemption from the disclosure requirements for large, powerful organizations, which, given the amendment’s language, in reality only applies to one entity, the National Rifle Association.
It is inappropriate and inequitable to create a two-tiered system of campaign finance laws and First Amendment protections, one for the most powerful and influential and another for everyone else. There is no legitimate justification for privileging the speech of one entity over another, or of reducing the burdens of compliance for the biggest organization yet retaining them for the smallest.
We urge you in the strongest possible terms to work with the sponsors to remove the offending language and restore the integrity of the bill so we can continue to participate in efforts to craft legislation that achieves the goal we all share to undo the damage of Citizens United and restore the integrity of our democratic system. In its current form, however, we have no choice but to oppose the passage of the DISCLOSE Act.
As the bill works its way through Congress, lawmakers may amend or jettison its unequal treatment of the National Rifle Association and organizations such as religious groups and denominations. It’ll be an interesting and important detail to keep an eye on. As the letter states, it’s an issue of fairness.
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