"I know there's been a lot of misinformation" about health care reform, Mr. Obama said. "There are some folks that are, frankly, bearing false witness."
The president told listeners on the call, organized by religious groups as part of a 40-day initiative to promote health care reform, that his reform plan would give the uninsured affordable, quality options, while those who already have insurance would benefit from "common sense" consumer protections.
The president directly addressed a number of pervasive rumors about his proposals.
The allegation that health care legislation would set up "death panels," Mr. Obama said, is "just an extraordinary lie." He also rebutted false claims that health coverage would be provided for undocumented immigrants, that there would be government funding for abortions and that there would be a "government takeover" of health care.
These fabrications, Mr. Obama said, are distracting the country from its "core ethical and moral obligation... that we look out for one another."
"In the wealthiest nation on earth, we are neglecting to live up to that call," he said.
After kicking off the conference call with a prayer led by Dr. Cynthia Hale, senior pastor of 6,000-member Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia, religious leaders echoed the president's message that there is a moral imperative for health care reform.
Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, one of the groups sponsoring the initiative, said he has been "deeply concerned" by the shouting and hostility at town tall meetings. He said the fatih community is putting out "a clear call for truth telling" in the health care debate, and is "calling on people of faith to make our political representatives understand the faith community will be satifisied by nothing less than accessible, affordable care for all Americans."
Along with today's call with the president, the 40-day religious campaign for health care includes television advertisments, prayer vigils, rallies and a number of other means of promoting reform, which faith leaders described on the call.
Father Bob Amundsen, pastor of the 1,200-family Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Lafayette, Colo., described how his church has helped organize town halls and held a public showing of a health care documentary followed by a discussion. The contact information for local representatives is published in the church's bulletin, Amundsen said, to urge the congregation to get in touch with them.
"For us as Catholic Christians, we see this as a moral issue," he said, "in which we carry on the healing ministry of Jesus."
White House Policy Chief Melody Barnes also participated in the call, answering questions about Mr. Obama's plans.
"I would say that health reform is at the crux of being a faithful steward of our resources," Barnes said.
One caller asked Barnes whether Catholics interested in seeing universal health care coverage had to be worried about abortion coverage.
"The president has said it's longstanding policy federal funds won't be used for abortion coverage," Barnes said, adding that people "should be able to purchase coverage that reflects their values and basic needs."