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Religious leaders seek voice on policy

Some Nevada religious leaders say they want the debate over health care reform to move from a political to a moral plane.

On Thursday leaders from four religious groups, with support from the Nevada State Democratic Party, announced the formation of the Faith for Action Coalition.

Their intention is to infuse the public debate over health care reform with a sense of divine morality.

“Within every one of us there is a spark of the divine,” said Rabbi Yocheved Mintz of Valley Outreach Synagogue in Las Vegas. “If you respect the spark of the divine, you need to ensure that spark is kept healthy.”

The coalition announcement at Victory Missionary Baptist Church included Mintz and three other religious leaders: the Rev. Robert Fowler of Victory Baptist, the Rev. Joel Menchaca of Amistad Cristiana of Las Vegas and Imam Mujahid Ramada of the As-Sabur mosque in Las Vegas.

“Hopefully it will reverberate to our country that we believe health care to be a moral issue,” said Fowler, whose church on Monroe Street northwest of downtown drew a visit from then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in late 2007.

Although the Nevada State Democratic Party supported the event by writing a news release to announce the coalition and coordinated coverage by local media, the religious leaders at the announcement insisted their participation wasn’t political.

In a letter published Thursday in the Reno Gazette-Journal, members of the coalition said they will lobby for solutions that provide “medical care for all citizens,” and the belief access to health care is a right all Americans should enjoy.

“We don’t know what the best answer is, and our tradition does not tell us what the best answer is,” Mintz said. “But our tradition tells us we must take care of the sick.”

At one point in the event, Menchaca referred to a desire to influence the political process.

“We are here to join together with the rest of the clergy to make this coalition work and make our voice be heard throughout the nation and to get support from the people, especially those that vote,” he said.

Members cited statistics used by Democratic politicians and supporters arguing on behalf of health care reform proposals in congress.

Rob Boston of the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said the coalition does not appear to be a blatant violation of the separation of church and state. But he added the participation of the Democratic party raised a red flag.

“It does show there is some coordination here between houses of worship and a political party,” Boston said. “I would feel better about this if this were a spontaneous movement arising out of the churches without Democratic Party officials standing behind the curtain helping to orchestrate it.”

Most churches are organized as nonprofit entities, which makes them exempt from taxation. That tax-exempt status can be threatened if the Internal Revenue Service determines a church, or any other nonprofit, veers too far into politicking.

“They are supposed to serve the public good, not some partisan end,” Boston said.

The Faith for Action Coalition includes several members throughout Nevada from different religious backgrounds.

Typically, Boston says, right-leaning religious communities are most associated with influencing politics. But the issue of health care appears to be motivating more left-leaning faith organizations to speak out on public policy.

“It has fired up the progressive side of the equation in a way I haven’t seen in a while,” he said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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