Supreme Court Allows Federal Funding for Christian Science Care
The Supreme Court yesterday rejected a constitutional challenge to a law that allows Christian Science health facilities, which "use no drugs or conventional treatments," to receive Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, the AP/Nando Times reports. The decision, made without comment, allows for the continuation of federal funding of these facilities, whose operator, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, "teaches that prayer is the most effective treatment for illness and that conventional medicine is incompatible with spiritual healing" (Gearan, AP/Nando Times, 4/2). A provision in the original Medicare Act of 1965 specifically allowed for Christian Science facilities to receive federal funding. In 1996, a lawsuit challenging this arrangement was filed by Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, a group founded by a former Christian Scientist who objected to the practice of parents withholding medical care from their children in the name of religion. A federal judge sided with CHILD, ruling that the payments were unconstitutional. In 1997, however, Congress broadened Medicaid and Medicare law in this area by saying that payments could go to all "religious nonmedical health care institutions."
CHILD sued again, but this time both a district court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the new wording was constitutional, as the latter held that the law was "sect-neutral," and "neither promotes one religion nor imposes a burden on another." CHILD then appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing in court filings that "[t]ens of millions of Medicare and Medicaid dollars have been paid by the federal government directly into the coffers of the Christian Science church's [facilities] for the nonmedical care of its members by faith-healers." The church, joined by the Justice Department in urging the Supreme Court not to get involved in the case, responded that overturning the 1997 law "would impose extraordinarily harsh consequences on poor and elderly Americans who rely upon nonmedical health care as a matter of religious conscience." Church officials say that federal funds are used only for "general nonmedical care," such as bandages and bedpans, and not for prayer, as CHILD has alleged (AP/Nando Times, 4/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.