For many people of faith who care about children’s needs, the third weekend of October is a special celebration. Each year, on this weekend, thousands of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples across the country hold special worship services, education programs and advocacy activities to engage people of faith in the lives of children and their families. Sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths Celebration is a way for faith communities to celebrate children as sacred gifts of the Divine, and provides the opportunity for houses of worship to renew and live out their moral responsibility to care, protect and advocate for all children. The National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths Celebration is supported by Catholic Charities U.S.A., the Islamic Society of North America, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., the National Assembly of Bahá’ís in the U.S., the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and more than 200 other religious organizations and denominations.
The theme of this year’s Children’s Sabbaths celebration is, “Create Change for Children Today: Bring Hope and a Better Tomorrow.” One of the main concerns people of faith will be lifting up this year is the need for health care legislation that assures real reform of our broken and inadequate child health system. Participants in the Children’s Sabbaths celebration will affirm that every child’s life is sacred and of equal value, and will be asking key questions: What is a child’s life worth? What is a child’s health worth? What is a child’s spirit, battered by preventable suffering and chronic disease, worth? What is a child’s hope worth? What are the true values of the world’s richest nation that is so spiritually poor that it even debates whether it can afford to give all its children the basic right to health care? As Nobel Prize laureate Gabriela Mistral reminded us, children cannot wait. Their brains and bones and spirits are being formed right now. Meeting their health and mental health care needs should not even be debatable but instead should be the first and most urgent priority in a decent and sensible nation.
Children’s Sabbaths participants believe that as people of faith they are called to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. They take seriously the God-given charge to place a special priority on protecting children and those who are poor and most vulnerable and excluded—a concern that runs through the sacred writings of each religious tradition. The Torah teaches us “You shall not side with the majority as to pervert justice” (Exodus 23:2), and commands “Justice, and only justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). The New Testament is marked by stories of healing—especially of children—that marked Jesus’ ministry, and reminds us that Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not just me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37). The Qur’an asks, “Why should you not strive in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated and oppressed? Men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors, and raise for us from Thee one who will help!'” (Qur’an 4:75).
This celebration is a part of a broader Children’s Sabbaths movement that aims to unite religious congregations of all faiths across the nation in shared concern for children and a common commitment to improving their lives and working for justice on their behalf. In that respect, each action is bigger, more powerful and more inspiring than the efforts of any one celebration. The National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths weekend is one more opportunity for us to come together and say with a loud voice that every child is entitled to a healthy, fair and safe start in life and the chance to reach healthy and productive adulthood—and that we have a moral obligation to all our children. We must ensure that health coverage in any final health care reform bill will guarantee all children the comprehensive health and mental health care they need and be affordable and simple to get and keep. Children should be much better off—not worse off—after health reform.