Astroturfing churches?

If you attend church in Ohio on a regular basis, you may notice a subject creeping its way into your pastor’s sermons over the next two months. A Hot Air reader working at a non-profit received this RFP from the Ohio chapter of UHCAN, the organization behind the Health Care for America Now counter-demonstrations at town-hall forums, where volunteers are trained to disrupt and shut down dissent. With elected officials escaping their constituents and fleeing back to the Beltway, UHCAN Ohio wants to start Astroturfing churches:

Request for Proposals

UHCAN Ohio is looking to engage in a short term contract with a person who has a background in working with faith communities in the Southwest Ohio area, primarily Cincinnati and its suburbs. The purpose of the contract is to engage faith community leaders to communicate with their congregations about the movement for national health care reform. We want to provide them with materials that will assist them to talk about the moral issues involved in the lack of health care for a large portion of our population, and the desire to do it during this great debate on health care in this country.

The health care reform work of UHCAN Ohio, and the coalition it staffs, Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage can be reviewed by going to or


1. Prepare a packet of materials with input from the OCHC leadership team that can be used by faith-based leaders and can be easily copied and distributed to faith leaders. Such materials are available from the Faithful Reform in Health Care web site, but may need to be supplemented with other materials and you may need to search further than the FRHC website. The packet should also be able to be posted on-line on the UHCAN Ohio and OCHC websites, with links to the appropriate original sites.

2. Reach out to forty faith congregations in the Cincinnati area and its suburbs, asking their faith leader to communicate to his/her congregation about federal health care reform in a religious/moral context. This will require face to face or at least individual phone conversations with pastors/leaders asking them to preach on the subject, or to carry out a discussion within the congregation, or to sign on to a letter to policymakers. We need a success rate of at least 33 percent. It will also involve providing them with the materials that will fit their situation.

In preparing a proposal keep in mind that because individual congregations respond to the instructions/directions they receive from their denominational leadership, this project will involve becoming familiar with the directives that have already been developed by regional or state offices of the various denominations and the various faith traditions, and probably conversations with key denominational staff to determine what is the most effective way to work within anyone denomination.

Time-Frame: End of August through October, frontloading the project so much of the contact initiation happens in late August, early to mid September.

In preparing a proposal please specify the number of hours and rate/hour required to carry out these deliverables. The contractor will be responsible for all expenses such as phone calls and mileage, so please build that into your rate. Expenses for copying materials will be borne by UHCAN Ohio.

Please submit a proposal to Kathleen Gmeiner, Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage Project Director, UHCAN Ohio, 404 S. Third St., Columbus, Ohio 43215. Questions may be directed to [redacted].

The proposal deadline is 5 PM Monday August 24, 2009.

In other words, UHCAN wants to pressure churches into transforming themselves into campaign rallies.  That kind of contact could risk their tax-exempt status (and should), but the moral problem goes beyond that.  Will pastors who agree to this disclose that they’ve been lobbied and pressured by ObamaCare advocates?  If they do, it would undermine the credibility of the sermons, but if they don’t, it undermines the credibility of the minister and the church itself.

I deliberately chose the word “creeping” in the lead.  This is a rather creepy idea, one which essentially asks ministers to become tools of the state.  It’s one thing to ask ministers to join their cause, but another entirely to launch a lobbying campaign to astroturf their sermons.  It shows the level of desperation among ObamaCare organizers as Americans reject their radical agenda.

Update: UHCAN’s Iowa affiliate can skip their meeting with Catholic bishop R. Walter Nickless, who makes an excellent point about the difference between rendering to Caesar and rendering to the Lord (emphases mine):

First and most important, the Church will not accept any legislation that mandates coverage, public or private, for abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic stem-cell research.

We refuse to allow our own parish, school, and diocesan health insurance plans to be forced to include these evils.  As a corollary of this, we insist equally on adequate protection of individual rights of conscience for patients and health care providers not to be made complicit in these evils.  A so-called reform that imposes these evils on us would be far worse than keeping the health care system we now have.

Second, the Catholic Church does not teach that “health care” as such, without distinction, is a natural right.

The “natural right” of health care is the divine bounty of food, water, and air without which all of us quickly die.  This bounty comes from God directly.  None of us own it, and none of us can morally withhold it from others.  The remainder of health care is a political, not a natural, right, because it comes from our human efforts, creativity, and compassion.

As a political right, health care should be apportioned according to need, not ability to pay or to benefit from the care.  We reject the rationing of care.  Those who are sickest should get the most care, regardless of age, status, or wealth.  But how to do this is not self-evident.  The decisions that we must collectively make about how to administer health care therefore fall under “prudential judgment.”

Third, in that category of prudential judgment, the Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care.

Unlike a prudential concern like national defense, for which government monopolization is objectively good – it both limits violence overall and prevents the obvious abuses to which private armies are susceptible – health care should not be subject to federal monopolization.

Preserving patient choice (through a flourishing private sector) is the only way to prevent a health care monopoly from denying care arbitrarily, as we learned from HMOs in the recent past.  While a government monopoly would not be motivated by profit, it would be motivated by such bureaucratic standards as quotas and defined “best procedures,” which are equally beyond the influence of most citizens.  The proper role of the government is to regulate the private sector, in order to foster healthy competition and to curtail abuses.  Therefore any legislation that undermines the viability of the private sector is suspect.

I’d disagree with Bishop Nickless on the nature of natural rights, but it might be comparing apples to oranges.  He’s talking about rights from a spiritual perspective, while I’d approach it from a political perspective.  No one has the right to someone else’s property, which is the basis of the free market.  Farmers produce food and own the fruits of their labor.  Water and especially air are more ambiguous.  However, even with that disagreement, Nickless gets the rest of it exactly right.