Spiritual leaders from a wide spectrum of religious traditions staged a day-long prayer vigil in front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to protest the GOP’s beleaguered health care bill.
Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other interfaith activists gave speeches and participated in prayer and worship throughout the night. Together, they decried what they believe are inherently immoral cuts to Medicaid included in Republicans’ Better Care Reconciliation Act.
“This attempt to roll back health care is immoral and this bill is an attempt to mainstream inhumanity,” Rev. J. William Barber II, a prominent progressive Christian activist, said during the protest. “To make it cool to be inhumane.”
“When our democracy is sick, we must be the healers,” the preacher instructed his listeners. “Our nation is sick but we can’t give up on it ... This is cruel. It’s wrong. It’s immoral.”
Listen to Rev. Barber’s speech below.
The vigil began at 4 p.m. on Wednesday and lasted until about 3 p.m. on Thursday. It was organized by the Interfaith Healthcare Coalition, an informal coalition of national faith-based organizations ― including groups like Bread for the World, Sisters of Mercy, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and several mainline Protestant churches.
About 150 people of faith attended the protest, according to Think Progress, along with politicians like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Senator Tim Kaine spoke during a Catholic sunrise mass early Thursday morning.
During the interfaith protest, Rabbi David Saperstein, director emeritus of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that the Jewish tradition asks followers to pay special attention to those with particular needs who would otherwise be excluded from the community.
“The model of the prophets’ willingness to speak to the nation as a whole and to those in power on behalf of the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable compels us lift-up these voices as we gather today on Capitol Hill to call resolutely on the Senate to reject the so-called Better Care Act and instead listen to the stories of the those who are crying out against this dangerous legislation,” Saperstein said.
Dr. Sarah Kureshi, a representative of American Muslim Health Professionals, said she felt it is the responsibility of people of faith to “protect the vulnerable and fight against this bill.”
“There’s a saying of Prophet Muhammad about how the community is like a body; when one part feels pain, the whole body responds to that pain,” Kureshi said, according to a representative from Bread for the World. “Similarly, when the most marginal and underprivileged in our community are hurting, forgotten, downtrodden, or neglected it is our responsibility to respond with love, kindness and empathy, because their pain is our pain.”
According to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill would leave about 22 million more people uninsured over the next 10 years. That wealth would effectively be transferred to wealthy people and to health care companies in the form of tax relief.
The bill would restructure Medicaid, which currently provides health insurance to 74 million disabled, elderly or poor Americans. Under the bill’s provisions, federal funding for the program would be drastically reduced. Premiums and out-of-pocket expense would increase for some low-income people and for those nearing retirement.
The bill also makes it easier for states to get exemptions from certain federal standards for insurance coverage, meaning it could impact, for example, coverage for pregnant women, people who need mental health support, and those who need very expensive drugs.
The bill would allow insurers to charge older people five times as much as younger people ― the current limit is three times.
Faced with the reality that many Republican senators had serious reservations about the GOP’s proposed health care bill, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell delayed a vote on the legislation on Tuesday. The debate will resume after the Fourth of July recess.
During his speech at the interfaith protest, Barber repeatedly questioned the morality of Republicans’ cuts to Medicaid.
“Health is a human right and it should not be determined by your money or the size of your house,” he said. “The last time I read Jesus said, ‘When I was sick, you cared for me.’ He didn’t say, ‘When I was sick, you cared for some of me.’”
“Jesus promoted universal health care.”