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Faith leaders say health care reform a ‘moral’ issue

Local religious leaders don’t back specific proposals for change


Jeremy Twitchell

Rabbi Yochoved Mintz, center, makes a point about health care reform while Pastor Robert Fowler, left, and Imam Mujahid Ramada, right, look on. The three are part of the new Faith For Action Coalition, a statewide group of religious leaders advocating for health care reform.

Updated Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009 | 4:35 p.m.

At the intersection of faith and politics, religious leaders representing several faiths in the Las Vegas Valley have banded together to join the call for health care reform.

Leaders representing Baptist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian Hispanic congregations on Thursday said they don’t back any specific proposal for reform, but based on the moral issues involved, will be collectively pushing for legislators to take action on the issue.

The Faith for Action Coalition includes current and former leaders from 15 churches and religious groups throughout the state. Victory Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Robert Fowler, who appeared at a health care reform rally earlier this month with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to frame the argument for reform in moral terms, is one of the coalition’s co-chairs.

“The fact that a person does not have education, does not have financial resources, does not make that person any less valuable,” Fowler said. “Our concern is this: that sometimes, it takes the most blessed of us to reach the rest of us, so that we can all be blessed.”

Rabbi Yochoved Mintz of the Valley Outreach Synagogue said religious traditions and scriptures have taught that people in society have a responsibility to care for one another’s health and physical needs long before the current debate over health care reform began. How a society attends to those needs, however, is something that its citizens and leaders must figure out, she said.

“The Jewish tradition demands that everybody have access to health care. Everyone,” Mintz said. “But it does not demand a specific form of delivering that health care. … The fact that 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance is, from the Jewish point of view, an intolerable dereliction of duty.”

Imam Mujahid Ramada of the Masjid As-Sabur (As-Sabur Mosque) said members of his faith recently completed Ramadan, when they fast during the daylight hours every day for a month. During that time, Ramada said, he gained a better perspective of the struggles faced by those who have no food – a situation he likened to those who have no health care.

He called the existence of individuals without health insurance “a terrible injustice for anyone of faith.”

“We invite everyone to think about how the uninsured feel, then make an effort in good faith and good conscience to stand up for what is right,” Ramada said.

Though the coalition has the support of the Nevada Democratic Party, during their remarks and questions afterward, the religious leaders repeatedly stressed that they view the issue of health care in moral terms.

“This is a moral issue for us,” Ramada said. “This is not a political issue. We would be doing this even if there were no proposal from President (Barack) Obama for reform. But because this is the bully pulpit issue for the country right now, it gives us an opportunity to have our concerns heard.”

Clark County Republican spokesman Ron Futrell said discussion about health care reform should also include other moral issues.

"I think liberty is a moral issue, and this health care plan, as proposed, severely restricts personal liberties," Futrell said.

While leery of what he called a government takeover of health care, Futrell said Republicans are not philosophically opposed to the concept of health care reform. He said the party has floated other proposals -- including tort reform and interstate insurance policy sales -- that would achieve the goals of improving health care without government intervention.

"Are Republicans against health care reform? Absolutely not," Futrell said. "But there are things that can be done to make it more economical, to make it more accessible, without a total government takeover."

He also dismissed accusations that Republicans have engaged in fear-mongering, arguing that issues such as the so-called "death panels" and providing health insurance for illegal immigrants were in draft versions of the Democrats' health care reform proposal, and only removed or altered after Republicans raised concerns about them.

"Any time conservatives and Republicans have brought up an issue that has been labeled by the media as fear-mongering, the bills have been changed to remove those issues," Futrell said.

Mintz said she recognized that there are conflicting viewpoints on health care reform - likely even within the congregations of the leaders participating in the coalition - but called on all sides to keep the dialogue respectful.

“The fear-mongering that has intervened in the national debate has deflected from the need for reform,” she said. “That has to go. We have to be civil; we have to be polite.”

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