DALLAS (Reuters) - Liberal religious groups announced on Monday they are teaming up with President Barack Obama in a national campaign to counter the surprisingly vehement conservative opposition to his plan for overhaul of the U.S. healthcare industry this year.
Organized by liberal-leaning evangelicals, some mainline Protestant clergy, and some Catholic groups, it will include Obama participating in a call-in program with religious leaders streamed on the Internet on August 19, prayer meetings and nationwide television ads.
“As a pastor I believe access to healthcare is a profoundly moral issue,” Rev. Stevie Wakes of Olivet Institutional Baptist in Kansas City, said in a news teleconference announcing the “40 days for Health Reform” campaign.
Protestors have confronted members of Congress across the country in town hall meetings held to take the public pulse on the various healthcare overhaul plans being written in Congress.
What lawmakers found was anger fueled in part by Christian and conservative radio that healthcare would lead to taxpayer funded abortion and even euthanasia for the old, have incited much of the loudest and most dramatic reaction.
Conservative Catholics often side with Republican-leaning evangelicals in opposition to abortion rights but the biblical call to help the sick and the poor is also an important part of the faith. Obama’s healthcare agenda includes extending health insurance to the roughly 46 million uninsured Americans.
Some of the opposition is being fueled by leaders of the “religious right,” the conservative Christian movement that remains a key base for the opposition Republican Party.
Religion often plays a huge role in politics in America, where church attendance is high. Obama tapped into this sentiment during his White House race, often talking openly about his own Christian faith.
This counterpunch by what has been called the religious left will also feature events with members of Congress in states such as Colorado and Florida. Conservative Democratic members of Congress in several states are regarded as key by both sides to the success or failure of health reform.
Analysts say it remains to be seen if it will pay off with some political dividends at this crucial juncture for the healthcare plan. Lawmakers have said they are working to pass the legislation this year to avoid embroiling healthcare reform in next year’s congressional election politics.
“I think that the Democrats were surprised by the strength of the religious right and the insurance companies and those opposed to healthcare reform when they got their grass roots efforts going,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“So it took awhile for the Religious Left to get their national campaign going and we’ll see whether or not it has the same emotion and intensity,” he said.
The groups behind the effort include Faith in Public Life, Faithful America and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
Editing by Jackie Frank
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