The 2010 "Lie of the Year" found a snug home among some Southern Baptist leaders.
Southern Baptists and other conservative Christian leaders repeatedly claimed health care reform was "a government takeover of health care," which Politifact.com named the top lie of 2010.
PolitiFact.com, which won a Pulitzer last year for its investigative fact-checking of political claims, announced this month that the year's top lie was the accusation that the health care reform passed earlier this year amounted to "a government takeover of health care."
"The phrase is simply not true," explained PolitiFact, a nonpartisan fact-checking organization. "PolitiFact reporters have studied the 906-page bill and interviewed independent health care experts. We have concluded it is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover because it relies largely on the existing system of health coverage provided by employers."
"It's true that the law does significantly increase government regulation of health insurers," added PolitiFact. "But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market."
PolitiFact's announcement noted that many other fact-checkers have also pointed out that the "government takeover" claim was incorrect. PolitiFact credited conservative political consultant Frank Luntz for pushing Republicans to repeatedly invoke the phrase. Luntz believed the phrase would spark greater opposition to the proposed health care reform.
Although PolitiFact noted numerous Republican legislators and conservative pundits who echoed the phrase, they did not include conservative Christians in their report. Yet, Southern Baptists and other conservative Christian leaders also parroted the phrase.
Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), repeatedly invoked the phrase. While supporting a petition last year that rallied conservatives against the proposed health care reform, Land used the phrase to describe the proposed legislation.
"This petition is indicative of a spontaneous grass roots eruption of protest against a government takeover of the American health care system," claimed Land. "Anyone who doubts the strength and vitality of this movement needs only have attended one of the thousands of town hall meetings to know that this is real."
Following President Obama's State of the Union address earlier this year, Land again made this claim in a Baptist Press article.
"It is time for the president and the Congress to start over on health care and to address real and serious needs for true health-care reform in a broad-based, bipartisan, issue-by-issue strategy instead of trying to cram down the throats of the American people a one-size-fits-all, government takeover of one-sixth of the economy," argued Land.
In a Baptist Press column, Land went ever further by claiming the proposed legislation would be a "government takeover of healthcare, i.e., 'socialized medicine.'" Land also frequently invoked the "government" and "socialism" memes on his radio program, "Richard Land Live!"
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Barrett Duke, a vice president at the SBC's ERLC, followed his boss' lead as he labeled the proposed reform legislation "a massive government takeover of health care" in a Baptist Press column. Another Baptist Press columnist, Ken Connor, similarly criticized the legislation as "a government takeover of America's health care system."
Additionally, the Baptist Press frequently quoted Republican leaders using the phrase. Those quoted in Baptist Press stories included House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Tom Coburn, and Family Research Council Action President Tony Perkins. In some articles, the phrase was even used without quotation marks, as if it were a simple statement of fact.
"Having repeated the 2010 'Lie of the Year' with such frequency, one would hope that SBC officials and the SBC's official news agency would refrain immediately from spreading a political falsehood about health care reform. Professional integrity requires it. The Christian moral witness demands," said Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.
"God is the author of truth. God's followers ought to be people of truth, not those who parrot deceitful political slogans," he said.
Last year, PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" also involved inaccurate claims made about the health care reform. The 2009 lie was the claim that the legislation would create "death panels" to decide who does or does not receive treatment, an argument the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin helped popularize. As with the 2010 lie, Land also frequently invoked the 2009 lie on his radio program and in other public statements.
In the past, Land has offered other false claims on health care and other topics. Earlier this year, he inaccurately claimed that the new health care reform law contained funding for elective abortions. He has also misstated environmental data, used poor sources to make his cooling claims and inaccurately claimed there were no oil leaks as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.