In Theory: Religion and health care

The health-care-reform measure passed by the House and signed into law by President Obama this week is being challenged by religious-rights groups who claim that “the law treats religions unequally and forces adherents to be part of a health-care system that violates their religious beliefs on abortion.” One lawsuit has been filed that claims “that forcing individuals to participate in a health-care system that supports abortions violates their 1st Amendment right to freely follow their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Another lawsuit claims an “unconstitutional entanglement between government and religion” because some religious groups are exempt from participation in the new reform effort. What do you think? What serious religious implications exist here, if any, as a result of this new measure? Are there any moral or theological issues in the new measure?

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Oh please. No, I do not think there are serious religious implications for reforming health care, other than the positive implications for greater equity in who can afford to pay for health care — that sounds like something Jesus would do.

There are genuine differences of belief about abortion, and venues in which that debate can be engaged, but this is not that. No one is forcing anyone to violate their beliefs on abortion; allowing freedom for some is not the same as forcing others.

What is it with us these days, that we can no longer bear it when organizations of which we're a part include people and ideas different from our own? Where did the idea come from — in America! — that our organizations must be an exact duplicate blueprint of our own thoughts and practices, with any deviation being cause for offense and disassociation? (“I simply cannot be a part of any group that tolerates Granny Smith apples as well as Red Delicious?.?.?.?”)

There are some observations from systems theory that apply here — that theory that any human organization acts just like a human being, with certain set patterns of behavior, coping and defense mechanisms. Systems theory says that in times of high anxiety (such as the time we live in) people often resort to a “herding” mentality — trying to jam everyone into a corral of identical beliefs and behaviors.

Tolerance for difference shrinks or disappears, humor is lost, and those who are the lowest common denominator of emotional maturity rise up and rule the day. (Can you say “tea party”?)

President Obama, stay strong. The rest of us: Try to come to grips with the fact that in a country of 300 million people, someone might do something different sometimes.

Try to cope.

RECTOR AMY PRINGLE

St. George's Episcopal Church in La Cañada

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The 1st Amendment of our Constitution restricts Congress from enacting laws that favor one religion over another.

It is my understanding that after the passage of the health-care-reform legislation, President Obama signed an executive order specifically barring the use of federal funds for abortions. Even so, the mandate that everyone must have health insurance and “participate in a health-care system that supports abortion” does not violate the 1st Amendment.

While abortion is contrary to the religious beliefs of many Americans — and millions feel it is utterly offensive — the proposed law nevertheless applies equally to all citizens.

In my view, one aspect of the health-care plan does raise a serious red flag when it comes to religious beliefs: the portion of the law exempting members of Amish and Mennonite communities from participating in the national health-care system.

This clause seems to be a clear case of government favoring the religious beliefs of some groups while ignoring the spiritual sensitivities of others. I feel this is an issue that Congress must address, since their constituents deserve an honest answer to this dilemma.

There are valid positions supporting universal health care, as well as compelling arguments against it. On one point we can all agree: This new law will have a profound effect on our country. Regardless of one's stance on the issue, however, at this early stage of the game none of us can claim that we can predict exactly what this program holds for Americans and in what direction it will lead the nation. Stating otherwise, in my opinion, is foolish and simply irrational.

Those who argue that the plan will usher in Armageddon are obviously overstating the case, just as those who believe the measure will resolve all problems regarding access to quality health care will surely be disappointed.

Although it may be the law of the land, it seems that our national discussion on health care is just beginning. And if what we've seen are only the previews, we can be certain that we're in for a long, loud, hardy and lively debate. So long as the dialogue remains civil and stays focused on facts, this debate is a healthy — and vitally important — part of our democracy. It will help ensure that we reach the best possible result for all of our citizens.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills

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Health-care reform is a laudable goal, and over the upcoming weeks, months and years, we will see how well that goal is achieved through the recently enacted legislation.

This new law is facing immediate opposition in the form of lawsuits.

Fourteen states have filed constitutional-based suits, and two religious groups have filed suits based on the 1st Amendment's Establishment Clause and the 5th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

I will leave it to constitutional scholars and the courts to evaluate the merits of these suits.

Stepping back from the specifics of these suits, many religious leaders believe that there is an ongoing erosion of religious freedom in the United States.

Over the past six months, three religious leaders addressed this subject on the campuses of Brigham Young University. Two leaders were Church of Latter-day Saints general authorities and the other was Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

All three speeches are worth reading and can be found on the Church of Latter-day Saints website under “Religious Freedoms.”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church of Latter-day Saints Quorum of Twelve Apostles said: “For three decades people of faith have watched a systematic and very effective effort waged in the courts and the media to drive them from the public square and to delegitimize their participation in politics as somehow threatening.”

He also observed: “The greatest infringements of religious freedom occur when the exercise of religion collides with other powerful forces in society.

Among the most threatening collisions in the United States today are the rising strength of those who seek to silence religious voices in public debates, and perceived conflicts between religious freedom and the popular appeal of newly alleged civil rights.”

George said: “At stake is whether or not the religious voice will maintain its right to be heard in the public square.”

Some may argue that these religious leaders are overreacting.

I believe that the debate over religious freedom and the right to be heard in the public square will only continue to intensify as competing “rights” collide with one another.

RICK CALLISTER

La Cañada II Ward of the La Crescenta Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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The United States is a huge and varied country, and there are beaucoup interests throughout the land. But it's high time we had a health-care plan for all, and I am tickled pink that something finally passed!

Were some people's toes stepped on? Maybe. But I'll say it again: It's high time that we had a health-care plan. Is it perfect? Of course not, but now we at least have a structure from which to work.

Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president before he was a Bull Moose candidate, if my memory of history is correct, wanted a health-care plan as early as 1912. When FDR brought in Social Security in the 1930s, he also wanted health care, but wasn't able to bring it about. (Social Security, by the way, is a very popular government service.

Do you know any Social Security recipient who is sorry to be receiving a Social Security check? No, me neither.)

When Medicare and Medicaid came about under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, there was much opposition. But now those programs are among the most popular that the government has.

Some on the Republican side of the political spectrum are threatening to repeal the health-care plan, but I'm guessing they aren't going to be able to do it. Some are also going to try to have it declared unconstitutional; they also will lose, I believe.

Congratulations, America! We have joined the other enlightened nations of the Western world, and it was high time!

La Cañada Congregational Church

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It breaks my heart to know that money from the taxes my government requires me to pay is already being given to Planned Parenthood, a group that actively promotes and perpetrates the destruction of human life in the womb.

The insistence of Congress on specifically including abortion funding in the health-care-reform measure is more than an outrage and a violation of 1st Amendment rights. It's an affront to God who said: “I formed you in the womb” (Jeremiah 1:5) and “Children are a gift of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3).

On Good Friday, the Roman soldiers slapped Jesus in the face and mocked him. As a nation we are doing the same to him who said: “Permit the children to come to Me” and “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Matthew 18:14) and “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42).

Ultimately this is not a matter of who has the most votes in Congress. It's a matter of our nation's responsibility to do what is right before God.

If the goal is health care, then let's care for the health of the unborn, too.

THE REV. JON BARTA


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