Obama Makes Health Care a Religious Issue

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By George Kane

Head shot of George, smiling in jacket and tie.

With his health insurance reform initiative bogging down in the face of declining public support, President Obama is calling on religious leaders to turn it into a moral crusade. On one day in August he held two teleconferences to this end. In the morning he asked about 1,000 rabbis to preach his political agenda in their sermons on Rosh Hashanah, while that afternoon he spoke to a mostly Christian audience of about 140,000 religious leaders in a conference call and webcast.

Obama told the rabbis that “we are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”  Rabbis who attended said they believed he was “using religious organizations to promote policy.” He even read one of the central prayers for Rosh Hashanah, implying scriptural support for insurance reform.

Addressing the larger group, President Obama adopted the rhetoric of the Christian tradition, framing insurance reform as a moral rather than a political question, while emphasizing the 47 million Americans who lack insurance. He described opponents of his program in Biblical terms:  “There are some folks that are, frankly, bearing false witness.” President Obama also spoke of the “core ethical and moral obligation…that we look out for one another,” adding that “in the wealthiest nation on earth, we are neglecting to live up to that call.”  The term ‘call’ is commonly used by Christians to refer to a ‘call from God,’ a scriptural concept.

While making health care available and affordable to all Americans is quite properly framed as an ethical concern, that concern is simply for the welfare of the populace. This is a purely secular issue that is not made more important by cloaking it in religious language. By courting religious leaders to advance his political goals in their sermons, President Obama shows more concern for his religious constituency than for the principle of separation of church and state.

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