As activists gathered in front of the Supreme Court this week to voice support for or opposition to the Affordable Care Act (2010), or "Obamacare," fellow Christians find themselves on both sides of the debate.
The rallies kicked off Sunday night with vigils as both sides prayed for opposite outcomes in the cases the Supreme Court would hear argued over the next three days. The politically liberal Christians, concerned about access to health care for the less fortunate, prayed for the court to uphold the law. Politically conservative Christians, concerned about the law's infringement upon individual liberty, asked that the law be struck down.
A supporter of the law, James Winkler, general secretary of the General Board of the Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, emphasized the need for health care reform and access to health insurance in a statement to the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy organization.
"Quite simply, we believe the Supreme Court and the decision it makes is a reflection of the moral and ethical character of our people. Providing comprehensive health insurance reform ensures every single person in the United States has access to needed care without regard in their ability to pay. To do otherwise is to elevate private insurance interests above the need of human beings," Winkler said.
Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, a conservative advocacy organization, emphasized, on the other hand, the law's impact on liberty and religious freedom in a Monday statement opposing the law.
"Though many are reveling in the politics of it all, what will be happening today at the Supreme Court is a solemn affair that will have enormous consequences for our nation. The Affordable Care Act will affect not only our health care but many of our founding liberties also, as we have seen already with the contraception mandate and our religious liberty," Nance said. "Concerned Women for America (CWA) and its more than half-a-million members around the country are uniting in prayer for the Justices, asking, as our forefathers did, that Divine Providence guide the proceedings from beginning to end."
Religious hymns were also part of the gatherings. Supporters had a brass marching band for their rally playing "When the Saints Go Marching In." During Sunday's candlelight vigil, onlookers could listen to "We Shall Overcome," which was also popular during Civil Rights marches in the 1960s.
A Washington Post reporter observed that some pastors supporting the law knelt in prayer on the Supreme Court steps. They were followed by the prayers of pastors who oppose the law. Then, yet another set of pastors followed asking God for harmony between the two sides.
Faith and Action, which is opposing the law, participated in the Sunday vigil and prayed before and after each of the deliberations. The group's president, the Rev. Rob Schenck, also observed the deliberations inside the court on Monday and Tuesday. In a Wednesday interview with The Christian Post he described how he prayed for the justices individually while in the courtroom.
"It becomes a very deliberate exercise of prayer," Schenck said, "because we study the body language, the voice tones, the facial expressions of the justices and try to really sense how they are feeling about the case as much as think about it, and we pray for them each by name."
On Wednesday morning, supporters of the law were chanting and banging drums near Faith and Action's rally. As Schenck's group began to pray, however, the counter-protesters became silent out of respect. Schenck described the scene as like the "sanctuary of a church."
"I thought that was very impressive, very commendable of them to show that kind of courtesy even though they knew we were their opponents. ... That was just a real gift to us," Schenck said.
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, stated in a Tuesday column, "It has been a long time since I've seen crowds this big protesting outside the Supreme Court. They're all there: Tea Partiers and Obamacare supporters marching, praying, chanting, carrying signs. The marching band was an interesting touch!"
Colson believes that Supreme Court judges are, in theory, not swayed by public opinion, but in practice public opinion can have an impact.
"The Supreme Court justices do read the newspapers; they know what public will and won't accept," Colson said.
The court is expected to rule on Obamacare by late June. No clear consensus emerged Wednesday as the justices discussed the health care law's individual mandate, which would require most Americans to have health insurance beginning in 2014.