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Information flyers for health insurance enrollment through the Affordable Care Act are offered at a back-to-school event at the Martha O'Bryan Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Aug. 4, 2017. (Joe Buglewicz/The New York Times)

Faith leaders connected to the Southern Christian Coalition, a group of Christian leaders and followers who advocate for policy based in theology, are calling on Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to stop the state's role in a federal lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.

In a Monday afternoon news conference, they appealed to Lee's public image as a Christian, stating the governor should uphold the Christian value of helping the poor, something they said the ACA does. The governor should stop Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery from continuing the state's involvement in the lawsuit, they said.

Lee's office did not respond to request for comment Monday.

The Rev. Matt Steinhauer, pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Lebanon, Tennessee, said destroying the ACA risks the health and well-being of thousands of Tennessee residents.

"There is no reason that people living in the greatest and richest nation in the world should have their health care rationed based on their income, which is exactly the way the [health care] market worked without the Affordable Care Act," Steinhauer said.

In December, a district court judge in Texas ruled that since the 2017 congressional tax bill eliminated penalties for adults without health insurance, the ACA was unconstitutional. Slatery and other 19 other Republican state attorneys general are arguing that, without the penalties, the ACA mandate requiring every person have insurance is unconstitutional.

Slatery said, in a December statement, that Congress needed to provide a solution to health care coverage since he believes the ACA to be unconstitutional.

Kelli X, minister at The Village Church in Madison, Tennessee, said the lawsuit is more focused on winning political points than helping people.

"There seems to be less of a concern about the people that will be affected and more of a concern around making sure that an idea is put across," she said. "We have to remember that ideas or political thoughts affect the real lives of Americans and Tennesseans here in our state."

In 2019, 223,320 state residents signed up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

Taking care of the poor is one of the core messages of the Bible, Steinhauer said, noting Lee used his Christian faith in his political campaign. Members of the coalition are asking for a meeting with Lee before August 9 to present their argument for the state leaving the ACA lawsuit.

Oral arguments on the case are scheduled to begin Tuesday in the U.S Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Find him on Twitter at @News4Mass.

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