“Simon Says” and “Mother May I?” were two versions of a popular game in my childhood.
Success resulted from remembering and using these key words. You were “out” if you responded to a directive that wasn’t preceded with “Simon Says” or didn’t use the request for permission, “Mother May I?”
A juvenile game, of course, but fun for children. And helpful, perhaps, for cultivating alertness, careful thinking and memory.
The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that has reminded me of this childhood game.
The challenge before the court is based on the federal subsidy intended to help lower premiums for citizens purchasing health coverage.
It is described in the law as available to those acquiring insurance through “an exchange established by the state.”
The assumption, apparently, behind these key words was that the states would set up the exchanges for the purchase transaction.
Thirty-four states, however, in an effort to obstruct the implementation of the ACA, declined to establish exchanges and to provide “navigators” to help with the process.
This meant their citizens would need to purchase insurance through the federal exchange.
Georgia’s insurance commissioner, for example, was active in the effort to prevent people from enrolling for this coverage by not only refusing to establish an exchange but also by obstructing the provision of navigators to help with enrollment.
“The problem is Obamacare,” he is quoted as saying in October 2013 to a group of his supporters. “We got to determine what we can do to solve the problem. Let me tell you what we are doing, everything in our power to (be) an obstructionist.”
He tempered his position almost a year later after several major insurance companies came on board in Georgia, explaining that in his earlier comments he was “talking to a Republican group and I was throwing them some red meat.”
The obstructionist mood, however, has continued to have some deep roots and continued to play well in Georgia and several other states as well as in the 2014 elections.
Challenging the effort to make health coverage available to the millions who did not have it on the basis of wording that obscures the stated intention of the law sounds a lot like a game of “Simon Says” to me.
A juvenile game appropriate for children on the playground, but less responsible for those with the power to affect negatively the lives of millions.
The court must examine and respond to the legality of the challenge. We can hope that they will be attentive to the morality of it as well.
In the pivotal moments in U.S. history, some of whose 50-year anniversaries we are now celebrating, morality gave shape to legality rather than the other way around.
In civil rights legislation and the Voting Rights Act, for example, the courts, the executive branch and Congress came together to change some laws and to provide others that served the common good.
Many of us remember the fierce resistance to many of those changes, and we struggle to find ways to explain to our grandchildren how anyone could think in the ways that supported such injustices.
What we celebrate now is the courage of those who “held our feet to the fire” in sharing a larger vision of what was right.
Their courageous initiative helped us to see that misinformation, prejudice and manipulated fear are not a basis on which a healthy and moral society can build its future.
Let us hope that the Supreme Court will say that it’s time to leave the playground of legal gamesmanship and return to the classroom of morality and integrity where a vision of a just, peaceful and wholesome future can be nurtured.
Maybe they should preface their directive with “Simon Says.” Perhaps the people will remember to say, “Mother May I?”
And maybe, 50 years from now, our grandchildren will be trying to explain to their grandchildren, some of whom will be living because they had access to good medical care, how anyone could have thought otherwise.
Colin Harris is professor emeritus of religious studies at Mercer University and a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Professor emeritus of religious studies at Mercer University, a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and the author of Keys for Everyday Theologians (Nurturing Faith Books, 2022).