The driving force behind many of the more center-left-leaning religious-advocacy groups that popped up in Washington after the 2004 election was that religious voters wanted their voices heard in the public square and that our elected officials care what they think. Thus, if a religious-advocacy group holds a rally for health-care reform, members of Congress will sit up and listen, right?

Not so fast, of course. As The Washington Post's religion reporter Jacqueline Salmon detailed this weekend, there are several coalitions of religious groups making a moral case for health-care reform. One such coalition, Faithful Reform in Health Care, says on its Web site, "As people of faith, we envision a society where each person is afforded health, wholeness, and human dignity. That vision embraces a system of health care that is inclusive, accessible, affordable, and accountable."

Such a vision is not limited to "people of faith," a term so meaningless it proves useless for describing a definable political constituency. Naturally the progressive vision for universal health care embodies respect for human dignity, whether that respect stems from theism or non-theism. Thus the "people of faith" who argue for health-care reform based on the dignity of each person run into the same roadblock that people making secular moral arguments do: Washington is not actually controlled by respect for the dignity of human beings.

There's another not-so-minor blip that Salmon points out, and that Dana has been documenting here: Some of the religious advocates for health-care reform based on the dignity of the person also believe that a fetus is a person and that they should not be compelled to pay for abortion with federal taxpayer dollars. (Such funding has been banned through Medicaid since the Hyde Amendment was enacted, in 1976.) Some "people of faith" believe abortion services should be covered -- as a matter of respecting the dignity of women as human beings. Others, even if they support real reform, believe that they should not -- as a matter of respecting the dignity of fetuses. That's just one example of why talking about what "people of faith" demand leads to the question: whose faith?

On the extreme end of the spectrum, the religious right is using the red herring of abortion coverage to try to stop reform altogether. Embedded in the efforts of the coalition behind Stop the Abortion Mandate is creating fear that abortion coverage in health-care reform is just a backdoor method of getting the dreaded Freedom of Choice Act passed. And on the fringes of the extremes, Randall Terry, who has renamed his organization Operation Rescue, Insurrecta Nex ("insurrection against death," in Latin), has warned "Expect a tax revolt. If you think we will willingly surrender our money to pay for murder, you are insane."

Corporate opponents of health-care reform must be loving this. Religious-right falsehoods and fear-mongering are deflecting public attention from the real policy details of the debate. And who needs to listen to the other "people of faith" when they don't have lobbyists, fundraisers, and bundlers? Which is why, if respect for the dignity of human beings is at the core of "people of faith's" advocacy for health-care reform, maybe they should have their eye on another kind of reform: fair and clean elections.

--Sarah Posner

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