Faith leaders disagree on court's health-care law ruling
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, June 30, 2012
6/30/12 at 7:15 AM
Read the Tulsa World continuing coverage of the health care law.
Local and national faith leaders are sharply divided over the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling upholding President Barack Obama's health-care reform law.
In a 5-4 vote that surprised many observers, the court ruled Thursday that most of the Affordable Care Act was constitutional, including the controversial individual mandate, which requires Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.
"I'm thrilled," said Drew Diamond, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa.
"We spend a lot of our social services resources and energy helping people in our community who are either uninsured or underinsured medically," he said.
"Anything that helps people on the margins get access to medical care is both necessary and important. This was a major move to help people who seriously need help in this area.
"All politics aside, this is about health care and access to health care," he said.
Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, said the law is an unconstitutional intrusion into lives and violates freedom of religion. "The federal government shouldn't be telling us what to do in purchasing a product," he said.
"The health insurance mandate, as defined, includes abortifacients (substances to induce abortion), abortions and contraception.
"The federal government is forcing us to pay for things that various religions, not just Catholics and evangelical Christians, deem immoral. Our religious freedom is being attacked."
Piper was referring to a requirement in the new law that employers, including religiously-based hospitals and schools, provide their employees with free contraception services as part of their health insurance package.
Catholic bishops have led the fight against the contraception requirement. In a statement, they urged lawmakers to change the health-care reform law to protect issues of conscience and to expand its coverage of immigrants, but not to repeal the law.
Bishop Edward J. Slattery, in a statement issued Friday afternoon, said the Catholic Church is committed to providing access to health care to all people but cannot comply with the Affordable Care Act as written.
He said the church opposes the law because it allows federal funds to pay for elective abortions, fails to protect those who oppose the law on the basis of conscience and fails to treat immigrants in a just manner.
He said the contraception mandate is unjust and violates First Amendment rights.
"Our objections have not been addressed, and therefore we urge Congress to pass, and the administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws," he said.
The Rev. Bill Crowell, president of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry, said: "We were very much in favor of it. We think it was necessary to help more uninsured people in the country."
Richard Land, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, called the law a "blatant violation of the personal freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and perhaps a mortal blow to the concept of federalism."
The General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church issued a statement saying that "health care is a basic human right ... informed by our biblical and theological witness. Everyone should have health care. The (new law) is a huge step in the right direction."
Kathryn M. Lohre, president of the National Council of Churches, said that organization's members have "supported readily available health care since we were formed in 1950,"... following "the bold example of Jesus, who healed the sick."
Tom Minnery, executive director of Focus on the Family's CitizenLink, said the law will "weaken us as a nation. It forces taxpayers to subsidize abortion, expands the size of government and infringes on our fundamental rights of religion and conscience."
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), said the law is "moving us in the right direction."
"Health coverage must be available to all persons living in the United States, regardless of income, race or ethnicity, geography, age, gender, employment status or health status," he said.
The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, said the decision "guarantees that we will continue to bring awareness to the threat to religious liberty ... We are opposed to the birth control mandate because it runs counter to the biblical truth of the sanctity of human life and creates a conflict of conscience for religious employers and insurers, who face steep penalties for non-compliance based upon their religious convictions."
A statement issued by two dozen national religious organizations and numerous other groups applauded the Supreme Court for the decision and said the passage of the law makes "a statement about reclaiming the moral compass of our country."
Among the signers were the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Islamic Society of North America and the Rabbinical Assembly.
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
Carol Anderson of Williamsburg, Va., holds a cross outside the Supreme Court in Washington. EVAN VUCCI/AP Photo
Bishop Edward J. Slattery conducts an Ash Wednesday service at Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Drew Diamond, Everett Piper, Bill Crowell and Bishop Edward Slattery: Some applaud the ruling; others decry the contraception mandate