The organizers of Wednesday afternoon’s Interfaith Service of Witness and Prayer for Health Care for All made sure the hundreds attending stayed healthy. There were big barrels where one could pick up ice-cold bottles of water and lots of bananas to provide energy during the hot afternoonn, and even free blood pressure screenings were available.
Over at the stages at Freedom Plaza, three blocks from the WhiteHouse, there was singing, praying and speeches from a variety of religious leaders, two Obama administration officials and two members of Congress.
One of the first speakers was Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religous Action Center of Reform Judaism, who told the crowd that the religious community "will make health care a reality, and we will be the powerful prophetic voice that makes it so."
"Our role as the religious community is clear: To remain a goad to the conscience of America, as compromises are being made for short-term fiscal expediency, to ensure that we do not abandon the goals of universality, equality, prevention and cost containment. Let us never give up on that," he said.
Neera Tanden, senior adviser to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Health Reform, told the crowd that "this is a simple debate: Whether he was have the courage of our convictions to ensure that every single American has health insurance, once and for all."
White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships director Joshua DuBois also spoke, as did Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Tom Perriello (D-Va.).
Among the more than 40 groups endorsing the event as part of the We Believe Together coalition were B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, the National Council of Jewish Women, Tikkun magazine, the Union of Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism.
The coalition believes any health-care proposal should guarantee care for all Americans, eliminate any barriers to care, be affordable and create a system that relies on "shared individual and institutional responsibility."
Saperstein’s full speech is after the jump:
Two thousand years ago, the Jewish tradition argued that two central ideas underlie the ancient Jewish commitment to provide health care to all God’s children. The first is Judaism’s teaching that an individual human life is of infinite value and its preservation supersedes almost all other considerations. We are constantly commanded not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbors, and this provides the requirement for doctors and communities to heal. The second is the belief that God has endowed us all with the understanding and ability to be God’s partner in making a better world.
The use of that wisdom to cure illnesses has been a central theme in Jewish thought throughout history, and as a result, a number of relevant health care obligations flow from these core values. First, that physicians and societies have an obligation to heal. Second, that patients have an obligation to seek health care; indeed, the rabbis concluded that Jews should live in cities where doctors live in order to have access to health care. Third, the line from Deuteronomy, “You shall guard your souls,” is used to mandate preventive medicine. Fourth, providing health care was not just an obligation for the patient and the doctor but for societies, as well; in many Jewish communities, a public health care system was set up to guarantee that every person, rich and poor, would have access to health care. Fifth, quality of health care was ensured by communal governmental regulation. Sixth, cost containment was ensured. And finally, seventh, in cases of chronic illness, special means of providing funding to cover them had to be provided.
All of these help provide values that speak across the centuries to us today. My friends, when millions uninsured Americans in need of basic health care have to go to emergency rooms instead of doctors’ offices or clinics, when health care costs are skyrocketing at alarming rates, threatening the financial well-being of our families and the long-term stability of our national economy, how encouraging to know that a remarkable assembly of doctors, hospitals, labor unions, businesses, insurance companies, drug companies, Members of Congress, the White House and, as we see today, people of faith, have promised to work together to bring about fundamental and comprehensive health care reform. This is a moment and an opportunity we must not miss.
Gathered here today are people from faith traditions across the religious spectrum who share a fundamental belief in the importance of human health and well-being. God did not divide creation between the sick and the well, between those who can afford health care and those who cannot, between those who are entitled to health care and those who are not. God created all of us, endowed us with equal rights, and charged us with the responsibility to be partners in the act of healing. So we are here today, with the Capitol in view in front of you and the White House just behind you, to raise up our moral voice so that every American will someday soon have access to high-quality, affordable health care.
Comprehensive, compassionate health care reform must make resources available based on need rather than ability to pay so that no one will be forced to live in fear that their coverage will be canceled due to illness or employment. And universal means universal: for the rich and the poor, for the old and the young, for the chronically ill and the disabled, and it must focus on preventative and primary care, saving lives while containing cost.
That is why we are here: Our common values mandate us to speak out. My friends, we have the most expensive and the least popular health care system amongst the develop nations. Can we do better as a nation? We are the most expensive and the one that spends the most in administrative costs amongst the developed nations. Can we do better as a nation? We have the most expensive and the least comprehensive of the developed countries, with tens of millions fall through the cracks. Can we do better as a nation? We have the most expensive and the most children not covered. Can we do better? The most expensive and the most confusing and bewildering for consumers and health care providers. Can we do better? Health care reform will be a reality because we have no choice, and the question is, what form will it take? While that debate rages, our role as the religious community is clear. To remain a goad to the conscience of America, as compromises are being made for short-term fiscal expediency, to ensure that we do not abandon the goals of universality, equality, prevention and cost containment. Let us never give up on that. We can prevail over the existing tragic disparities that have existed so long. It is time to say enough. It will end. It will end now, and we will make it so. We will make health care a reality, and we will be the powerful prophetic voice that makes it so.