A little-noticed measure would put Christian Science healing sessions on the same footing as clinical medicine. Critics say it violates the separation of church and state.
Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.
The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.
The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”
It would have a minor effect on the overall cost of the bill — Christian Science is a small church, and the prayer treatments can cost as little as $20 a day. But it has nevertheless stirred an intense controversy over the constitutional separation of church and state, and the possibility that other churches might seek reimbursements for so-called spiritual healing.
The provision would apply only to insurance policies offered on a proposed exchange where consumers could shop for plans that meet standards set by the government.
But critics say the measure could have a broader effect, conferring new status and medical legitimacy on practices that lie outside the realm of science.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of atheists and agnostics that promotes separation of church and state, said the opportunity to receive payment for spiritual care could encourage other groups to seek similar status.
“This would be an absolute invitation to organize,” Gaylor said.
The Christian Science Church, which was founded in Boston in 1879, has pushed throughout its history to secure official recognition for its paid prayer practitioners. Their job, as outlined by the church’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, was to pray for healing and charge for treatment at rates similar to those of medical doctors.
Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 3, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog