America

Religious Groups Back Obama On Health Care

Just hours after the Obama administration launched a website today to battle what it has called "wild rumors" about its health care initiative, a coalition of progressive religious leaders entered the increasingly bitter national argument over the overhaul being debated in Washington.

The White House says it will call out misinformation. The coalition — which includes at least two members of Obama's faith-based council — says it will argue morality.

Or, more specifically, what members characterize as the moral and religious imperative of providing "inclusive, accessible" health care coverage and the need for a civil discourse about the issue, says Jim Wallis of the progressive Christian group Sojourners, one of the coalition sponsors.

Members of the group, during a conference call with reporters earlier today, unveiled an advertisement, People of Faith for Health Reform, which will air on national cable networks:

Coalition leaders also announced that Obama will join them in a national call-in event Aug. 18th.

And, the coalition has scheduled prayer gatherings Tuesday in 100 congressional districts, and is urging faith leaders to tackle the health care issue in sermons and discussions with their congregations.

According to Gordon Whitman of the PICO National Network, a faith-based community organizing group that is also one of the coalition's sponsors, the group's effort will focus on moderate, swing districts where "religion is significant to public life."

The "five figure" ad buy is seen a push-back to the religious right, which has aired an advertisement asserting that Obama's health care initiative would contain provisions for the use of taxpayer money to fund abortions. Family Research Council Action released the ad during a webcast event titled: "Government Takeover: The Moral, Ethical & Financial Dangers of the President's Health Reform Plan."

The progressive leaders argued Monday that the overhaul will be "abortion neutral" — that, like now, no taxpayer money will be used to fund abortions. But with a bill yet to emerge from Congress, that issue — fairly or not — remains open to debate.

Rabbi David Saperstein, a coalition member who also serves on Obama's faith council, says that the group's intent is "to say that we can do better," with the bottom line goal of universal, accessible health care for all.

"We cannot sit idly by when we have a system that just doesn't work for everyone," said Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

For some "fact checks" on the health care debate, see PolitiFact's examination of "abortion and the health care reform bill" and its look at former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's claim that Obama's plan includes a "death panel." PolitiFact says Palin's dead wrong.

(Liz is a Washington correspondent for NPR Digital News.)

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