Monday, August 31, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interfaith Vigil for Just Health Care Reform Draws over 140 Sunday August 23rd, 2009

Critical Issue Step Forward Ethical Voices on

Over 140 people attended an interfaith vigil for health care reform Sunday, August 23 at the First United Methodist Church in Omaha. Participants represented congregations throughout Omaha, including the First Christian Church, the Niagara Foundation, St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, St. Agnes Parish, St. Francis of Assisi, and Claire Memorial United Methodist Church. Clergy led prayers and gave testimony in support of health care reform, and people came forward with moving personal stories of family and friends not able to afford the care they need.

Rev. Jane Florence of the First United Methodist Church opened the event saying, “We come together to honor the image of God residing in so many who are in our country who are without access to proper health care. Tonight we remember the millions of Americans who do not have funds for medical services.” Franco, a leader of a Guatemalan indigenous group from St. Francis of Assisi, gave a prayer in his native language, Qanjobal, and the vice president of the Niagara Foundation, Ferhat Ozturk, recited a passage from the Quran. Rev. Frederick McCullough of St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church gave a brief message on the need for health care. “It is time that pastors and congregations come together to speak out against the injustice we see in the health care system that robs the poor of the access that all deserve,” he said.

Associate Pastors Debra McKnight and Robyn Fickes were very involved in organizing the event along with the Interfaith Worker Justice. “As people of faith we believe worker justice is a moral imperative. Workers a struggling because wages are shrinking and insurance bills are climbing, universal coverage is a justice issues not a political one,” said Noel Andersen an organizer with the Interfaith Worker Justice.

People from various faith traditions participated in a creative expression by writing their unjust experiences and stories from the current health care system on a surgical mask. The masks were brought forward at the end of the prayer vigil for all to see and share. Some of the pastors will be going to Washington DC next month for a lobby day with the Service Employee International Union where they will share the stories printed on the masks with Nebraskan Senators and Congress persons.

Clergy Delegation Meets with Senator Nelson on Health Care Reform

At a critical moment in the health care debate during the August recess Interfaith Worker Justice had two appointments with Senator Nelson's Office. Change that Works Nebraska helped coordinate and set up the meetings. In Lincoln, IWJ helped organize a delegation of eight faith leaders on August 18th including clergy from the traditions of Methodism, Lutheran, Reform Judaism and the local Reachout Christian Center. We spoke with Senator Nelson’s key health advisor Joe Britton.

On August 21,, a group of 22 interfaith clergy from Lincoln and Omaha had a meeting with Senator Nelson in person to talk about the moral imperative and ethical responsibility of creating health care reform now, to ensure that the marginalized can also receive care. Many clergy pushed for the public option as the most viable form to reign in large insurance companies.

In both delegations the clergy articulated their message clearly grounding their concern in moral, ethical and theological understanding to promote justice for the least, greater access for the uninsured, regulation of insurance company prices and the importance of the public option.

Interfaith Leaders Gather to Discuss Worker Justice, July 24 2009

Over twenty faith leaders from various traditions including Protestant, Catholic and Muslim backgrounds came together for a breakfast meeting on July 24th to discuss the different labor justice issues in the community. Leaders shared common values of human dignity, social justice and the moral imperative as people of faith to support low-wage worker rights struggles.

A meatpacker worker and organizer from the United Food and Commercial Workers spoke about the harsh reality of those meat packing companies that still do not have a union. The Exectuive Director of the Heartland Worker Center spoke to the reality of workers in construcction, landscaping or fast food who don't have any defence when worker abuses take place. The state director from Change that Works, an issue advocacy group from the Service Employee International Union, updated the faith leaders on the campaigns for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and health care reform. Two issues that will greatly impact the reality of workers; EFCA bringing more protection for the right to organize and the reform of health services which has the potential to create access and lower costs for so many who can't pay their health bills.

This meeting marks the beginning of an effort for faith leaders and their respective congregations to become more involved with the social justice within their community, especially for the low-wage workers in Omaha and Lincoln.