This story is more than a month old, but the doublespoken-ness of it didn’t really register for me until just the other day.
As a State Senator, Mark Green (R-TN) voted against Tennessee’s expansion of the Medicaid program; he still resists the idea. Currently running for the US Congress, Senator Green made the comment below (click anywhere on the photo to get to the full story) during a recent campaign event.
To be clear, there’s no dispute that he said it–you can see the video by clicking through to the article. To be fair, he insists that the comment is taken out of context.
State Senator Green’s Response
As soon as the story broke, Senator Green heard from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an avid watchdog of church-state separation. FfRF condemned the comment, perhaps unfairly, on the grounds that he is invoking religion as grounds to deny government services. By the way, I don’t blame FfRF for thinking this, given Green’s history as Trump’s nominee for Army Secretary, a nomination from which he withdrew because of his history of transphobic and anti-Islam comments.
Senator Green issued a response directly to FfRF (published in the Tennesseean) in which he insists that he’s not in favor of denying care to people on religious grounds:
He said that as a physician himself, he never voted on Medicaid expansion because it would have put “federal dollars in [my] pocket.” He said he thought health care savings accounts would resonate more with residents than expanding the Affordable Care Act, which he considered a “failing system.”
“Additionally, any notion that I am against all forms of government assistance for those in need is false,” Green said. “In fact, if you watch the entire answer — not just the selectively clipped soundbite that my opponent posted — you will hear me say, ‘I think governments have to protect their people. There’s a responsibility that ranks above certain things. But as an individual, my responsibility is to serve those who are in need.'”
Green said he wanted churches to do more to help those in need.
Were I a Tennesseean, I would find Green’s response comforting on one level–he doesn’t want to outright deny government services to people who need them. And his response does answer the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s charge–how credibly I’m not going to assess, but at least directly.
Religious Beliefs and Policy
Green is hardly the only conservative to advocate shifting away from government services towards non-governmental charity organizations–religious or otherwise (remember George H.W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light,” anyone?). The argument he starts with, that the government program is wasteful, is standard conservative fare. And his assertion that as a medical doctor his responsibility to patients overrides whatever metaphysical or spiritual disagreements he might have with them is quite welcome (after years of listening to other medical doctors, e.g., Paul Broun, Ben Carson, Tom Coburn, dispute basic science). In short, I believe he doesn’t want people to suffer because they don’t share his religious convictions. At least he doesn’t think he does.
But if that’s the case, then why has he twice (in the original comment and his response to FfRF) gone out of his way to reinforce the significance of his religious beliefs regarding a policy argument? Either he privileges the quality of service that religious organizations/institutions can provide (I’d like to see the medical evidence that surgery + proselytization = better outcomes than just surgery), or…
Let’s Convert the Sick, Folks
Well no. There is no “or.” If he doesn’t believe that religious-based practices are superior, then why talk about it at all?
Oh wait, maybe there is an or. Or, the medical care produces the same results, but by insisting that religious (particularly Christian) organizations need to administer it in order to bring patients closer to God, he’s making clear that the real goal here is to proselytize patients, not to reduce their physical suffering.
Bottom line: I believe that Senator Dr. Green is willing to help patients of whatever–or no–religion. I believe he understands that denying government services based on religion is unconstitutional. But he clearly thinks religious-based services are better, and not because their outcomes are better, but because they expose patients to religion. And that’s alarming.