The Supreme Court will soon decide the legality of federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in states without their own insurance exchanges. While the administration awaits the ruling, it quietly seeks to undo the damage from the previous challenge to the ACA heard by the Court. In that decision, the Court ruled that ACA’s required contraceptive coverage violates the religious freedom of closely held companies whose owners oppose certain birth control measures on religious grounds.
The administration’s legal position in the case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores) alienated many in faith communities. The case came to symbolize a broader fear within such groups that service to society will be guided, not by traditional and deeply held moral values, but by politically engineered standards. But fear not, people of faith; this administration wishes to regain your trust (and your vote) — as evident in its plan to reverse the declining proportion of spiritually affiliated Americans. In fact, legislation will be introduced in Congress to help houses of worship attract more members and become financially secure. This legislation is known as the Affordable Prayer Act of 2015.
According to administration talking points, the hard economic times caused by the Bush presidency have led to higher annual dues and building fund obligations at churches and synagogues. These dues and obligations limit most people’s access to worship, leaving only the investment bankers and hedge fund managers (who oppress the other 99 percent) able to afford full congregational membership. The Affordable Prayer Act (APA) will allow the middle class and poor to join congregations without mortgaging their future. Especially now, as Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians fans face yet another long season, there is an urgent need for a place to pray.
To ensure enough funds to support churches, synagogues, mosques, and Wiccan worship sites, the APA expects each person to join a religious congregation of his or her choice. Those who do not join will pay a penalty of $95 up to 1 percent of taxable income. Individuals may choose from among three membership options — bronze, silver, and gold — with increasing levels of religious access and cost. Bronze members can use the religious facilities and clergy up to 3 hours per week, while access is doubled and tripled respectively for silver and gold.
These limitations will prevent the wealthy from monopolizing prayer access, which unfairly allows them to maintain their wealth. (Note to Hillary: clergy time responding to emails counts as access whether a government or personal address is used.) Thus, existing congregations could serve more members paying lower dues, while gaining net revenue. Actual dues will be set by the Independent Payment Advisory Board established in the Affordable Care Act.
In addition, bronze, silver, and gold levels will apply to religious amenities. For synagogue refreshments after Sabbath morning worship, bronze members will get grape juice, egg salad, and crackers; silver will get the above plus gefilte fish, a strudel, and seltzer; and gold will get the silver serving plus crockpot stew and a shot of scotch. Under the APA, those who use the facilities or consume refreshments beyond their designated level will pay a 40% surcharge to their congregation. In return for the expanded funding, congregations must simply agree to remove any apparent bias in textual readings, such as that against the Amalekites in Deuteronomy 25:19.
Opponents of the APA claim it would unfairly burden small congregations with all its demands. In fact, small congregations (fewer than 50 full-time members) and those with unionized staffs will be exempt from this law. Furthermore, existing congregations will be exempt as long as they do not move to a new building, get new clergy, or raise dues and building fund obligations by more than 5 percent. In short, if you like your own congregation, you can keep it. Finally, people will be able to participate in the APA as smoothly as they now enroll in the Affordable Care Act through the user-friendly website www.youdonthaveaprayer.gov.