Legislative Agenda for 2014
The second session of the 113th Congress is likely going to be a very difficult period legislatively. Between election year jockeying and the ongoing political rancor it will be hard to find a path forward for many of the bills we want to see become law. Nevertheless, government is part of God’s design for ordering human relationships so we must work to help it fulfill its creational purpose (Romans 13:1-7). The following is a partial listing of the various legislative initiatives we will engage this year. While not exhaustive, it provides insight into the range of issues the ERLC will attempt to cover in the coming year.
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Table of Contents
Sanctity of Human Life
Marriage and Family
SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE
Of all the areas of interest to the ERLC, the sanctity of human life is our chief concern. Psalm 139 reminds us that God is intimately involved in the development of every person. He is also concerned about how people treat each other. Jesus said that we are to act in love toward each other (Luke 10:25-37). The first act of love we can show toward fellow humans is to seek to protect them in their most vulnerable stage—in the womb. While we are not yet at the place politically or culturally to reverse the horrific 1973 Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion on demand, we believe some steps to rein in the worst abuses are possible. Several bills offer us the opportunity to do just that.
The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (S. 137) amends the Public Health Service Act to codify the Hyde-Weldon Amendment. Hyde-Weldon prohibits the federal government and any state or local government that receives federal financial assistance from subjecting any health professional, hospital, provider sponsored organization, health maintenance organization, accountable care organization, health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan from discriminating against entities that refuse to participate in abortion-related activities. The bill also includes a private right of action for health care providers to file suit against a discriminating governmental entity. Neither chamber has voted on the bill.
Parents should be informed before their minor daughter is subjected to an abortion. The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (S. 369/H.R. 732) would significantly address this concern. It prohibits the transportation of a minor girl across state lines for an abortion to circumvent parental notification or parental consent laws in the girl’s home state. The bill requires an abortion provider in a state without a parental notification requirement to notify a parent before performing an abortion on a minor girl from another state. Neither chamber has voted on the bill.
Based on strong evidence that unborn babies have the capacity for pain by 20 weeks gestation, if not earlier, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (S. 1670/H.R. 1797) prohibits performing or attempting to perform abortions on babies at 20 weeks or greater gestation, except to save the life of the mother. The House has passed this bill, but the Senate has yet to act on it.
Because we believe that abortion ends a human life, we oppose efforts to use taxpayer funds to pay for elective abortion. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (S. 946/H.R. 7) establishes a government-wide statutory prohibition on elective abortion funding by codifying a patchwork of funding-restrictive policies, many of which presently must be reauthorized as riders to annual appropriations bills. In addition, now that abortion coverage is required in most health plans under the Affordable Care Act, we believe consumers should be made aware of the extent of such coverage and its cost in the plans they are considering. The Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2013 (S. 1848/H.R. 3279) will require this. The House combined these and passed them. The Senate must vote next. We also support the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act (S. 135/H.R. 217). This bill prohibits the government from directing Title X family planning funds to family planning agencies that provide abortions or provide funds to any other entity that performs abortions. Neither chamber has voted on this bill.
Our country’s commitment to eliminating discrimination based on sex or race should extend to every stage of human life. The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) (S. 138/H.R. 447) seeks to uphold that conviction. H.R. 447 prohibits sex and race selection abortion and the coercion of a woman to obtain either. Surprisingly, S. 138 does not address race selection abortion. The legislation also enables civil penalties to be levied against those who aid or support such abortions. Neither chamber has voted on the bill.
Religious freedom is a first right. God gave humans the freedom to decide whether or not to worship Him. He made the human conscience and He intended it to be inviolable (Matthew 23:37). If God will not violate the religious freedom He granted to humanity, government should not either. The ERLC will work to protect faith from governmental interference, as we believe God would have us do. The following are some of the issues we will engage.
Religious minorities are facing mounting persecution in many places around the world. Minority Christian groups appear to be especially targeted. To help address this persecution, we will continue our call on the administration to fill the still-vacant position of Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department. This position provides counsel to the president and other administration decision-makers regarding religious freedom violators around the world. It also advocates for religious freedom around the world. Because the need is so great, we believe some additional help is crucial. The Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2013 (S. 653/H.R. 301) directs the president to appoint a special envoy in the State Department to promote religious freedom of religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The House has passed this bill, but the Senate has yet to act on it.
Threats to religious freedom come in many forms. The Affordable Care Act has introduced a number of concerns. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act (S. 1204/H.R. 940) protects religious freedom under health care in three ways: (1) issues a full exemption from the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate for those objecting due to deeply held religious convictions; (2) provides conscience protections for individuals and health care entities that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer patients to abortion providers; and (3) applies a private right of action to ensure that victims of discrimination can seek redress in court. Neither chamber has voted on the bill.
As our government embraces an unbiblical view of marriage, it is likely that those with religious convictions that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman will come under scrutiny. The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act (S. 1808/H.R. 3133) prohibits the federal government from taking an adverse action against a person if the person acts in accordance with a religious belief that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage. Neither chamber has voted on the bill. Additionally, we are working with lawmakers and other interested groups to introduce a bill that would protect the religious freedom of adoption agencies to place children in homes according to their convictions, especially as they relate to marriage.
We are also closely monitoring the situation for men and women of faith in our nation’s armed services. We are pleased to have been able to join with other concerned groups to have important religious liberty protection language for chaplains and military personnel added to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The language protects the right of service members to hold and freely practice their religious beliefs. In addition, language protecting the rights of chaplains to conduct their ministries in accordance with the dictates of their conscience without fear of reprisal was approved earlier in 2013. We will be working with other concerned groups this year as well to seek ways to continue to protect the right of our men and women serving in harm’s way to live out the dictates of their faith as they put their lives on the line for their country.
At times, the ERLC finds itself in the position of opposing legislation as well. One of the pieces of legislation we will continue to oppose this Congress is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) (S. 815/H.R. 1755). This bill prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity by employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or joint labor-management committees. While it exempts some overtly religious organizations, it does not take into consideration all faith-based organizations or the faith-informed convictions of for-profit business owners. It also threatens the ability of people of faith to share their faith-informed convictions about sexuality without fear of retaliation. The Senate has passed this bill; the House has not yet voted on it.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
God also ordained the family. The book of Genesis tells us that God determined it was not good for man to be alone. He instituted marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman, and He intended children to be conceived and raised in that environment (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25). Our culture may be moving away from that ideal, but that does not change God’s design. Family breakdown is also not in the best interest of men, women, children, and society. The ERLC will do all it can to protect God’s design for marriage and speak to the needs of families in 2014. Here are a few ways we will do that legislatively.
We will work to remove barriers to adoption. Tens of thousands of children around the world are living in orphanages. Yet there are many good families in this country eager to adopt them. Our country can do more to help connect these children with loving families. Both will benefit as a result. The Children in Families First Act of 2013 (S. 1530/H.R. 3323) simplifies the process for families seeking to adopt children internationally and helps foreign governments develop stronger child welfare systems that can find a caring family for every child in need. Among other things, the bill would create a focal point within the U.S. State Department for vulnerable children and family security; streamline responsibility for nearly all processing of intercountry adoption cases in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); and establish a Center of Excellence within USAID, dedicated to implementation of the 2012 National Action Plan on Children in Adversity.
We also remain deeply concerned about the continuing deterioration of marriage in our country. At this time, 18 states have adopted some kind of recognition of same-sex marriage. This poses a dilemma as same-sex couples seek benefits in states that do not recognize their marriages and for the federal government as it seeks to determine who should receive federal marriage benefits. The State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 (H.R. 3829) instructs the federal government to look to a person’s state of legal residence when determining marital status and application of federal marriage law. The bill lets each state decide for itself who qualifies within their state for marriage benefits. Neither chamber has voted on the bill.
Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that humans are supposed to look out for each other. In God’s design, we are our brothers’ keeper (Genesis 4:1-10), and we are supposed to act with neighbor love toward others (Luke 10:25-37). This attitude is in great need today. The ERLC has many concerns about the treatment of people around the globe. We engage at many levels to help alleviate human suffering and governmental overreach into people’s lives.
We highlight here two efforts we will engage this year, one concerning inhumane prison conditions around the world and a second focused on Internet firewall circumvention. First, the Foreign Prison Conditions Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 657) brings U.S. pressure to bear on foreign governments to institute some basic humanitarian measures to address deplorable prison conditions. It seeks to ensure access to clean drinking water, basic medical care, protection from the elements, and adequate sleeping space, among other things. It also presses for inmates to be given access to family members and legal representation. Neither chamber has voted on the bill. Second, we will work to gain adequate funding commitments by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) for Internet firewall circumvention technology that will enable people in closed countries, like China and Vietnam, to access information and communicate with others over the Internet without fear of governmental censorship or reprisal. The BBG has already stated this technology is one of its priorities. They just need some guidance from lawmakers on the allocation of their current funding.
The Old Testament is filled with God’s call to His people to “love the stranger” in their midst (Leviticus 19:34). Jesus told His disciples that their care for the stranger was a direct reflection of their own spiritual vitality (Matthew 25:31-46). The biblical call to care for the stranger has a direct bearing on our treatment of undocumented immigrants in this nation. While the ERLC has not endorsed any particular immigration reform legislation, it continues to call on lawmakers to support just and compassionate immigration reform that includes undocumented immigrants.
The Senate-passed bill provides the House with a blueprint for its own work. As of January 2014, House committees have passed five immigration-related bills. They still have some components to address. The ERLC supports legislation that implements the following six principles set forth by the Evangelical Immigration Table:
- Respects the God-given dignity of every person
- Protects the unity of the immediate family
- Respects the rule of law
- Guarantees secure national borders
- Ensures fairness to taxpayers
- Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.
With more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in our nation, and more joining them every year, our country cannot allow the status quo to continue. It isn’t good for them or our nation. We look forward to finally achieving this historic goal in 2014.
As noted earlier, these are just some of the legislative issues we will engage in 2014. Some bills we will support are still in development. New ones will arise during the year, as well. Furthermore, the agenda does not address our efforts to engage myriad other areas of concern at the policy level, like sex-trafficking, pornography, poverty, hunger, homosexuality, gambling, and payday lending, for example. While the environment is very toxic politically, we know God has an agenda of His own. We will seek to understand His will as we bring Southern Baptist biblical convictions to bear on the great public policy questions of our day. We ask that every concerned Christian join us in prayer and action in this Kingdom effort to be instruments of God’s will on earth.