This post is by Jesse Galef
The late senator Kennedy used to be quite good on separation of church and state issues, but he had a weakness for helping Christian Science. Call me cynical if you like, but it might have to do with the fact that the Church of Christ, Scientist is based in Boston and has political clout. Now that John Kerry is the senior senator in Massachusetts, he’s taking over where Kennedy left off. The LATimes reports:
Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.
The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.
The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”
Yes, this is obviously nonsense. While I expected this of Hatch, Kerry typically gets it right. But don’t be disheartened! When I worked for the Secular Coalition, we were lobbying on this issue – as it turns out, there was some positive news on the House side last week:
The Secular Coalition for America is thrilled that the House of Representatives has decided to remove language found in all three draft bills that would require private and public plans to cover the spiritual care of individuals with religious objections to medical care.
Today the House released their version of the health care reform bill that did not include language requiring private and public health plans to cover spiritual care for any person. This “spiritual care” includes reimbursements for payments that Christian Scientists make to members of the Church who pray for them when they are ill.
So! Here’s where we stand: the offending provision will probably be in the final Senate bill – it has the cover of being a bipartisan effort and that chamber is less favorable to our issues. But it isn’t in the House versions. Before a full vote, it will be up to the party leadership to reconcile the versions – that’s where the real decision will be made.
There’s hope yet, although it would be nice if we didn’t have to keep fighting for minor victories in what is already supposed to be a secular government.