ERLC concerns with “Build Back Better”

By / Oct 27

Congress is currently negotiating the details of the reconciliation package, using a legislative tool known as “reconciliation” to advance President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda.

In August, Congress passed a budget resolution that set the stage for the use of reconciliation. Since the U.S. Senate is currently evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing a tie-breaking vote, when necessary, the reconciliation process allows the Senate to pass tax and spending bills with a simple majority (51 votes) instead of needing to cross the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

As Congress and the administration negotiate the details of the package, the ERLC has multiple concerns with certain provisions in the bill and how these would impact Americans, particularly those of faith.

Southern Baptists affirm the full dignity of every human being and that every life is worthy of protection, beginning with the unborn. We believe life begins at conception, and that abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection. Scripture is clear that every person is made in the image of God, and his knowledge of each of us even precedes the creative act of conception (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13). At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for  every single human being, without any reservation.”  

The ERLC is committed to ensuring that pro-life protections such as the Hyde Amendment are placed back into the bill. The Hyde Amendment prevents Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. At the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers unanimously approved a resolution calling Congress and the president to uphold the Hyde Amendment.

The ERLC opposes the exclusion of provisions that fail to protect religious freedom and conscience protections to millions of Americans. Efforts to codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. As the ERLC has long maintained, a government that is able to pave over the conscience is one that has the unlimited ability to steamroll dissent on any issue.

Religious Liberty Concerns

Restrict the participation of faith-based centers and schools in child care and universal pre-K

The reconciliation package includes expanded access to pre-K and child care programs, but the bill text significantly restricts the participation of faith-based centers and schools.

Since 1990, the federal program to support child care, known as the Child Care and Development Block Grant program (CCDBG) has had specific language that states that “religious providers may receive assistance on the same basis as nonsectarian providers.” However, the reconciliation bill significantly restricts faith-based groups from being able to participate. The way the CCDBG program has traditionally operated is by providing child care certificates to eligible parents who are able to use the certificate for the provider of their choice. CCDBG also protects religious identity, religious teaching, religious hiring, and religious admissions standards of faith-based child care providers that receive these federally funded certificates.

Under the reconciliation program, the child care funding isn’t added to the CCDBG program, but runs parallel to the program and includes new restrictions that would subject the certificates to the Head Start program’s nondiscrimination requirements. Sex discrimination would be prohibited. In addition, religious criteria for hiring and admissions would be prohibited. Some child care facilities operate on sex-segregated facilities, and this requirement would prohibit their participation.

The universal pre-K program would be subjected to the same religion restricting requirements as the child care funding but goes one step further. The program would use grants to fund the program, not issue certificates to parents, and would prohibit any religious teaching or activities in the federally supported pre-K programs.

Federal programs must take into account the desires of parents and the needs of children, and must allow for a pluralistic society in which the faith-based community is able to serve and provide quality child care and education.

Sexual orientation and gender identity 

Congress should ensure that programs and funding opportunities do not exclude people or organizations who operate from deeply held religious beliefs. This legislation must ensure that recipients of funding will not be required to adhere to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) language as a prerequisite for being able to participate in certain programs.

Life Concerns

Excludes Hyde Amendment protections

The Build Back Better plan completely excludes any Hyde Amendment protections. The Hyde Amendment is a longstanding pro-life provision, first introducted in 1976, that prevents Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. This policy alleviates taxpayers from being financially responsible for something millions have found to be a grave moral wrong. If the reconciliation bill passed without Hyde Amendment protections, American taxpayers would be mandated to pay for abortion. The result of expanded Medicaid without Hyde Amendment protections would be expanding taxpayer funded abortion.  

Abortion on demand

There are multiple instances throughout the bill where funding is directed to programs that would allow for that funding to be used for abortions or for progams that have sent funding to Planned Parenthood.

Abortion is not healthcare. If human dignity is given to each person when created in the womb, then abortion is not only an assault on the image of God but also causes irreparable harm to a vulnerable life. We believe abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection and, therefore, cannot be considered as healthcare.

The role of government should be to protect these vulnerable, preborn babies, not to exploit them by removing restrictions on abortion that put their lives in grave danger.

ERLC does not support requiring women to register with Selective Service

By / Oct 20

The National Commission of Military, National, and Public Service recently released their two-year review with the recommendation that all Americans, regardless of gender, may be expected to serve in the event of a national draft.

Southern Baptists affirm that men and women were created with distinct physical and psychological differences. Women placed in combat would be a risk to themselves, to the men around them, and consequently, to our nation.  Men are psychologically prepared to protect, while women desire to nurture. Asking a woman to take the place of a man in protecting a nation is not only dangerous, but dishonors the role of men and women.   

Men and women are equal in value but distinct in their roles. Genesis 1:27 notes that God created men and women in His image; they are equal in value, but they were also created with specific and complementary characteristics for different roles. Furthermore, 2019 SBC Resolution on Expanding The Selective Service To Include Women notes that government coercion of women signing up for the draft “would be to treat men and women interchangeably and to deny male and female differences clearly revealed in Scripture and in nature.”

The U.S. draft has historically been filled by men. In March of 2020, The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service published a review on the status of military and public service of young Americans, complete with policy recommendations including an updated military selective service process. The newly recommended draft would require women to sign up for the draft. If the commission’s suggested policies were implemented, women between the ages of 18 and 26 would be compelled to register for the national draft. Should there be a national emergency requiring a more robust military, both men and women would be drawn by a lottery system and forced to serve. No distinctions between the roles of men and women’s potential placements were made. There is also no recognition that women are often the nurturing parent needed at home; intact families are necessary for a healthy society. 

Southern Baptists wish to express deepest gratitude to those courageous men and women who have served, as noted in the 2016 SBC resolution on Women Registering for the Draft. We are grateful for all women who have chosen to serve their country in the military, but make the distinction that forced service is both dishonorable and unbiblical. 

ERLC Supports the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act

By / Apr 13

The ERLC supports the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act so that the United States can be a place of refuge for Uyghurs fleeing persecution.

The ERLC advocates for the dignity of the sojourner in accordance with  Scripture’s expectation on God’s people to minister to the vulnerable. God’s love for the immigrant, refugee, and foreigner is a specific and consistent biblical theme, and He calls His people to do the same. Christ, the greatest example of love, commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

The U.S. government has made an official determination that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, for targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups. Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims. The CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. China has constructed upward of 1,000 internment camps for this purpose, and it’s estimated that 1-3 million Uyghur Muslims are detained in these facilities. Aside from political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse is commonplace throughout these camps, including rape, torture,  malnourishment, and forced organ harvesting. 

The Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act designates Priority 2 refugee status for ethnic Uyghurs and others who are suffering from arbitrary arrest, mass detention, and political and religious persecution by the Chinese government.  This bipartisan bill expedites their ability to apply for refugee status and asylum in the U.S. Priority 2 status is for groups of special humanitarian concern to the United States who are designated by the U.S. government for resettlement processing and provides them direct access to the U.S. refugee system.

The U.S. has a history of welcoming refugees fleeing persecution, and we must not return Uyghurs to a country where they face a horrific genoicde. By offering priority 2 refugee status to Uyghurs, our nation can demonstrate that this country is a safe haven for the persecuted and those whose human rights have been abused and whose religious freedom has been violated. The United States must continue to counter China morally and offering Uyghurs refuge is a strong next step.

Adoptee Citizenship Act Coalition Letter 2021

By / Mar 26

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker
United States House of Representatives
1236 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Jerry Nadler
Chairman
House Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
2132 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Minority Leader
United States House of Representatives
2468 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Jim Jordan
Ranking Member
House Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
2056 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, Chairman Nadler and Ranking Member Jordan,

We are a diverse group of leaders representing a broad range of institutions that serve communities around the country and around the world. We are writing to bring your attention to a common-sense bill that ensures adopted individuals are treated as equal to biological individuals under U.S. law.

Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally were unnecessarily burdensome. The process included applying for and moving through a lengthy naturalization process for their children, in addition to the lengthy and costly adoption process. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the United States, who had at least one parent who was a U.S. Citizen. Unfortunately, that Act only applied to adoptees under the age of 18 when the bill was enacted, leaving an entire population of adopted children without full U.S. citizenship.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these individuals already adopted by U.S. citizens, yet left out of the previous bill. This bill solves the innumerable problems these adopted Americans have had to endure because of their lack of legal immigration status. This has included challenges in attending college, accessing banking services, or starting their careers

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) recently reintroduced this important bipartisan bill. Adopting from other countries is a privilege. Not every nation chooses to participate in intercountry adoption, and the United States ought to respect the countries that do choose to participate, by quickly securing permanent citizenship for the thousands of adoptees who do not currently have citizenship. Once an adoption is finalized, an adoptee should be treated the same as a biological child. These adoptees were brought here lawfully and legally and deserve the full protection of U.S. law.

We strongly urge Congress to swiftly pass the bipartisan Adoptee Citizenship Act to provide a permanent legal remedy for the thousands of sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who were left behind and not granted American citizenship. 

We thank you for your commitment to adoptees, and we look forward to working with you on this important bill.

Respectfully,

Russell Moore
President
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Scott Arbeiter
President
World Relief

Joy Alessi
Director
Adoptee Rights Campaign

Lucy Armistead
Executive Director
All Blessings International

James An
President
Korean American Federation of Los Angeles

Becky Belcore
Executive Director
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium

Kurt Capelli
Co-founder
Family Coalition for Adoptee Citizenship

Chuck Johnson
President & CEO
National Council For Adoption

Heidi Bruegel Cox
Executive Vice President, General Counsel
The Gladney Center

Brian Kim
President
Korean American Civic Empowerment and Leadership

Kristie De Peña
VP of Policy, Dir. of Immigration
Niskanen Center

Dongchan Kim
President
Korean American Civic Empowerment for Community

James R. Fisher
Executive Director
Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation

Tammy Kim
Managing Director
Korean American Center/Korean Community Services

Genie Gillespie
President
Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys

Walter Kim
President
National Association of Evangelicals

Chris Palusky
President & CEO
Bethany Christian Services

Hyosoon Park
President
San Diego Korean Pungmul Institute

Silvia Patton
President
Korean American Women’s Association of the USA

Angie Penrose
Executive Director
Building Arizona Families Adoption Agency

Wonseok Song
Executive Director
Korean American Grassroots Conference

Phyllis Stephenson
Executive Director 
Carolina and ABC Adoption Services

Professor Suhyun Suh
Coordinator
Korea Corner at Auburn University

SukChan Yu
President 
Korean Society of Dallas

Written Testimony of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing on H.R. 5

By / Mar 17

Overview

The Equality Act would curtail religious freedom protections, violate the consciences of pro-life healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately overrule the consciences of millions of Americans. 

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The ERLC is dedicated to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square to protect religious liberty and promote human flourishing. Our vision can be summed up in three words: kingdom, culture, and mission. 

The ERLC exists to help churches understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with the churches and other entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The ERLC affirms the full dignity of every human being. At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.” The SBC’s commitment to love of neighbor is grounded in the truth that “God created man in His own image; He created Him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” (Gen. 1:26-27)

Baptists and Religious Liberty

Baptists have always defended the separation of church and state and liberty of conscience. The Equality Act threatens both of these critical American ideals. The separation of church and state means that the government is not empowered to dictate or suppress doctrine and practice. This benefits all Americans by placing clear boundaries around the state’s authority. This bill would not merely erode but dissolve those boundaries, bringing the full weight of government against religious institutions and individual Americans simply for holding fast to their fundamental beliefs about anthropology and personhood. As Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, has said, “A government in the business of running the church, or claiming the church as a mascot of the state, invariably persecutes and drives out genuine religion.” Similarly, when the government stifles the freedom to dissent, whether from religious doctrine, political ideologies, or views related to human sexuality, it abandons its constitutional duty to protect civil liberties.

John Leland, a Baptist champion of religious liberty, challenged James Madison to ensure that religion and rights of conscience would be protected under the United States Constitution. Madison subsequently introduced the Bill of Rights as amendments to the Constitution, and Baptists have been faithful and ardent supporters of these bulwarks of freedom. Pluralism is a defining feature of our nation, and Baptists have long recognized that neither ideological conformity nor religious coercion are necessary for effective government. Instead, tolerance and persuasion are the instruments of civil discourse. The freedom of expression and robust and vigorous debate are critical elements of American society. The Equality Act would not advance but eradicate these instruments and ideals.

It is difficult to describe how tragic it would be for the Senate to pass a bill that repudiates the moral center of American government. The very premise of the Bill of Rights is that human beings, simply by their nature, enjoy fundamental liberties that the government has an obligation to protect. The Equality Act does more than threaten these freedoms; if enacted, it will contradict them explicitly. No American should ever be forced to compromise his or her religion or violate conscience to avoid punishment at the hands of their government. This legislation would needlessly penalize and discriminate against millions of Americans who possess no animus toward those this bill purports to aid. As law, the Equality Act would undermine pluralism, legalize coercion, imperil religious liberty, eliminate conscience protections, and erode the very freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.

Analysis of H.R. 5

1. If enacted, the Equality Act would bring sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty with devastating effects to this foundational freedom.

Through the Equality Act, Congress would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs about human dignity and marriage. While the proposed intention of H.R. 5 is to protect individuals who identify as LGBT, the bill fails to respect people’s freedom of conscience. H.R. 5 erodes foundational constitutional freedoms in its pursuit of fleeting cultural ideas.

H.R. 5 threatens the efforts of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies. The legislation would explicitly curtail the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 which would force faith-based child welfare organizations to either abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down. The state forced closures of such agencies is especially harmful at a time when multiple societal crises increase the need for children services.

H.R. 5 hinders the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals. While religiously affiliated hospitals routinely serve patients of any background, including those who identify as LGBT, providers who hold moral or religious beliefs cannot perform every procedure a patient requests. For example, doctors and nurses who object to gender reassignment surgeries for moral, religious, or scientific reasons would be forced to provide the procedure or risk losing their jobs.

2. The Equality Act would be the most pro-abortion bill ever passed by Congress.

The Equality Act would force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. Central to a Christian’s understanding of government is that government exists to secure rights granted by God. One of these inalienable rights is the freedom of conscience, not to be infringed by the state. H.R. 5 would redefine the term “sex” to also include “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” This language would roll back federal law that protects the consciences of pro-life nurses and physicians who object to participating in abortions because of their deeply held religious or moral beliefs. These conscience protections carry decades of bipartisan consensus—a consensus that no person should be compelled to participate in an act they believe to be gravely immoral. 

H.R. 5 would also jeopardize the longstanding Hyde Amendment that protects federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. There is nothing equalizing about forcing Americans to fund abortion through taxpayer dollars. Preventing taxpayer dollars from abortion protects consciences, saves lives, and respects the freedom of Americans to seek to persuade one another without state-sanctioned conscience intrusion. Every person is made in the image of God, and the United States has a responsibility to reflect that truth in its laws. 

3. H.R. 5 undermines decades of hard fought civil rights protections for women and girls.

The Equality Act disregards the privacy and safety concerns that women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with the opposite sex. Single gender spaces, such as locker rooms or shelters, would no longer be protected by law. This departure from a legal understanding of gender as male and female makes women and girls vulnerable to biological males being in their private spaces. For example, shelters for those women and girls escaping domestic abuse or homelessness would be forced to house biological men who identify as female. 

Another example of the harm this legislation poses to women and girls is in athletics and academics. Since 1972, Title IX has advanced women’s sports and scholarship in remarkable ways. If enacted, the Equality Act would threaten female competition as both areas would then be open to biological males as well.

• • • •

In sum, H.R. 5 would undermine the ability of Americans who disagree to work together for the common good. These legislative changes represent a dramatic departure from the foundations of tolerance and civil discourse. If enacted, the Equality Act would bring sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty with devastating effects to this foundational freedom. As Russell Moore often notes, “A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere.”

2021 Public Policy Agenda

By / Jan 22

The inauguration of a new president and the swearing-in of a new Congress always means a time of change and new beginnings. The 117th Congress, though, begins in a time of unique peril and uncertainty for our country. A global pandemic—and the resulting economic distress—along with the January 6 insurrection against our country mean that a level of anxiety exists in perhaps unprecedented levels. But, God as revealed in Scripture does not give us, as the people of Christ, the option to yield to fear or, maybe even worse, to cynicism. A time of peril is also a time of opportunity, for witness, for cooperation, and for the quest for justice.

In some ways, our Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) agenda will be the same as that of all Americans of goodwill—an end to the COVID-19 disease that has long plagued the world. In other ways, multiple issues will emerge unique to the mission of the ERLC. We will work with any and all of those elected by the people, or appointed to serve in our government by those who were so elected, on issues where we may share common concern. On some of those issues—such as criminal justice reform, the regulation of payday lenders, and providing a just solution to the plight of children brought to this country by their parents and now in legal limbo—there may well prove to be broad bipartisan consensus already. On other issues—such as protecting preborn children and their mothers, strengthening protections for religious freedom and conscience, and advocacy for religious minorities in peril around the world—there will probably be much less consensus in a divided and increasingly partisan America. Nonetheless, whether issues are currently popular or unpopular, we have the opportunity to bear witness, to seek to persuade, and to build the consensus needed to make change.

In addition to our work with the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, the ERLC will continue our work with the judicial branch on issues consistent with our mission, and will expand our work in multiple states, in partnership with state conventions and state advocacy groups, on issues of missional priority that are of national import.

The following agenda is not an exhaustive blueprint, but a sketch of the core public policy priorities for the next year through the cooperation of congregations throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.

Update: HHS Issues Final Rule Protecting Child Welfare Providers

By / Jan 9

This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule that would ensure that a broad array of child welfare providers will be able to serve vulnerable children while living out their deeply held religious beliefs. The finalization of this rule is welcome news and will protect these providers’ freedom to serve. This issue has been a top priority for the ERLC the last two years. 

HHS Chief of Staff Brian Harrison said of the rule, “The HHS grants regulation furthers the Department’s commitment to deregulation, protects the free exercise of religion, and relieves burdens on faith-based organizations seeking HHS support for their important work, especially as we seek to maximize opportunities for children to be adopted by loving families.”

When this rule was proposed, Russell Moore wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “the regulation merely ensures that no one is kept from serving, while ending an attempt to stop religious organizations from doing so consistent with their convictions. It’s a welcome statement that the child-welfare system is about the welfare of children—not proxy culture wars.”

Unfortunately, there are ongoing attempts to bar faith-based organizations that hold traditional, orthodox beliefs about marriage from serving vulnerable children. In 2019, the attorney general of Michigan cancelled a contract for foster care and adoption services with St. Vincent Catholic Charities citing a federal rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In 2018, Philadelphia barred Catholic Social Services from placing children in homes unless it changed its teaching on marriage. 

Child welfare providers in both states have sued, arguing that their religious freedom rights prevent the state from excluding them from the child welfare system. Indeed, the Supreme Court is considering the Philadelphia case this term, and the ERLC is hopeful the Court will issue a strong opinion that upholds these child welfare providers’ right to serve. 

The final HHS rule is available online.

State Policy White Paper: Facilitating Abuse Disclosures by Nonprofits

By / Oct 30

In response to the revelations of a sexual abuse crisis in American society and recognizing that such abuse has occurred in Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President J. D. Greear commissioned a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG). He tasked the group with considering how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.

Responding to the mandate from the messengers to the 2019 SBC meeting in Birmingham, who urged “churches and their leaders to develop partnerships within their communities to serve the abused, calling on government officials to strengthen laws and maintain justice and protections for the vulnerable in our society,” the ERLC in partnership with SAAG has studied various state-level legal mechanisms to confront sexual abuse. 

This white paper is a part of a series focused on state policy issues related to sexual abuse. The ERLC encouages Southern Baptist leaders and policymakers to assess the laws surrounding sexual abuse within their respective states to evaluate if new legislation is needed or would be helpful to ensure that survivors of sexual abuse have access to justice and that future abuse is prevented.

Liability for Disclosing Sexual Misconduct

The welcoming environment of most churches and nonprofits and their need to rely on volunteers to run their ministries makes many churches “soft targets” for abuse. When sexual predators are caught or suspicions arise as to their malevolent intent in one congregation, predators will often pack up and move on to the next soft target. And most alarmingly, many perpetrators are able to move from one church to another with near impunity. During investigative reporting into sexual abuse within Southern Baptist churches, the Houston Chronicle “found dozens of instances in which church leaders apparently failed to disclose concerns about former employees who applied for jobs at other congregations.”

This abuse pipeline from one church to another must be shut down. 

A part of this abuse pipeline rests in the confidence that perpetrators have that churches and nonprofit organizations will not share credible information about alleged abuses with future employers. This is because employers, even when they have credible information about alleged abuses, are reluctant to share that information out of a fear that the accused abuser will sue for defamation. Every circumstance is different, but perpetrators are aware of this legal issue and exploit it to their advantage.

Texas has recently enacted a law aimed at allowing churches and nonprofits to share the credible information they have about alleged abuse. Southern Baptist leaders in Texas crafted and passed HB 4345 giving immunity from civil liability to churches or other non-profits that in good faith report allegations of sexual abuse to an individual’s current or prospective employer. This allows church leaders to warn future employers about a potential predator by sharing a former employees’ sexual abuse and misconduct allegations without being sued. 

While it is imperative for churches to protect the vulnerable whether they are shielded from liability or not, a law such as this can make it easier for church leaders to do the right thing. Pastor Ben Wright, chairman of the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, commented, 

This legislation will not solve the entire problem, but it will eliminate one obstacle. It will enable our convention of more than 2,600 churches to say that when you act in good faith, when you do what you need to do, you can do it without fear because the state of Texas stands behind you.

Sample Statute: Texas

This bill was authored and introduced by Texas state Senator Scott Sanford, who in addition to serving in elected office is Executive Pastor of Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen, Texas, a Southern Baptist church. The bill was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2019 and is now a part of Texas law.

Statute Text

Sec. 84.0066.  LIABILITY FOR DISCLOSING SEXUAL MISCONDUCT.  (a)  A charitable organization, or an employee, volunteer, or independent contractor of a charitable organization, acting in good faith, is immune from civil liability for any act to disclose to an individual’s current or prospective employer information reasonably believed to be true about an allegation that an individual who was employed by or served as a volunteer or independent contractor for the charitable organization or its associated charitable organizations:

(1)  engaged in sexual misconduct;
(2)  sexually abused another individual;
(3)  sexually harassed another individual; or
(4)  committed an offense under any of the following provisions of the Penal Code:

(A)  Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8) (sex trafficking of persons);
(B)  Section 20A.03 (continuous trafficking of persons), if based partly or wholly on conduct that constitutes an offense under Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8);
(C)  Section 22.011 (sexual assault) or 22.021 (aggravated sexual assault); or
(D)  Chapter 21 (sexual offenses) or 43 (public indecency).

(b)  Immunity from civil liability under Subsection (a) applies in relation to an allegation described by that subsection that was required to have been reported as abuse under Chapter 261, Family Code, only if the allegation has been, at the time of the act to disclose, previously reported to an appropriate agency under Section 261.103, Family Code.

(c)  An individual is not immune under this section from civil or criminal liability for:

(1)  disclosing the individual’s own conduct that constitutes:

(A)  sexual misconduct;
(B)  sexual abuse of another individual;
(C)  sexual harassment of another individual; or
(D)  an offense under any of the following provisions of the Penal Code:

(i)  Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8) (sex trafficking of persons);
(ii)  Section 20A.03 (continuous trafficking of persons), if based partly or wholly on conduct that constitutes an offense under Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8);
(iii)  Section 22.011 (sexual assault) or 22.021 (aggravated sexual assault); or
(iv)  Chapter 21 (sexual offenses) or 43 (public indecency); or

(2)  acting in bad faith or with a malicious purpose in making a disclosure described by Subsection (a).

Notes

  • Disclosure based on reasonable beliefs are protected: The language of the statute is designed to protect a disclosure that is based on reasonable belief: “information reasonably believed to be true.” This is an intentionally low threshold and is not tied to a defined evidentiary threshold, for example a preponderance of the evidence standard. However, as described below, the disclosures must be made in good faith.
  • Bad faith or malicious disclosures are not protected: A provision is included that specifically denies protection under the statute for disclosures made in bad faith or for a malicious purpose.
  • Applies to employees, volunteers, or independent contractors: It is important to include more than just employees, because nonprofit organizations and churches may deal with situations that involve volunteers and those who are not formally employed by the organization. This is a crucial element of the legislation to include in other states.
  • Types of behavior and misconduct covered by the statute: The scope of sexual crimes covered under the statute include sexual misconduct, sexual abuse of another, sexual harassment, and then refers to a number of offenses under the Texas Penal Code, including sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, sex trafficking, public indecency, and other sexual offenses.
  • Inclusion of “sexual misconduct”: The term “sexual misconduct” is not defined by the statute and is not a reference to another portion of the Texas Penal Code. This term is intentionally broad, as the purpose of the statute is to facilitate sharing of information that will protect the public.
  • Limitation to properly reported situations: Subsection (b) includes a limitation on the applicability of the statute to misconduct that was properly reported to the authorities, if reporting was required under Texas’ sexual abuse reporting statute. This provision was not included in the introduced version of the bill and was added during the committee markup process in response to testimony offered by a member of the survivor community. The rationale for this provision is that organizations should not benefit if they did not follow the law when the incident took place. Although this is an understandable rationale for such a provision, it should be noted that this will serve as a deterrent to sharing information about past abuse, which is the core purpose of the statute.

Sample Bill: Missouri

HB 1446 was introduced in the Missouri legislature by Rep. Doug Richey, who also serves as Senior Pastor of Pigsah Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. The Missouri Baptist Convention supported the legislation. The bill was heard in committee but did not pass the Missouri legislature in 2020, in part due to legislative disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bill Text

537.049. 1. No charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, or persons acting on behalf of a charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, shall be held civilly liable for any communication regarding an individual made directly to another charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, or persons acting on behalf of a charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, to the extent the communication concerns an allegation that the individual has:

(1) Engaged in sexual misconduct;
(2) Sexually abused another individual;
(3) Sexually harassed another individual;
(4) Committed any sexual offense under chapter 566; or
(5) Engaged in conduct affecting the individual’s fitness for religious ministry, but only in the case of a communication to a church or religious organization or persons acting on behalf of a church or religious organization.

2. Immunity from civil liability under subsection 1 of this section applies in relation to an allegation described in subsection 1 of this section that was required to have been reported as abuse under sections 210.109 to 210.183 only if the allegation has been, at the time of the act to disclose, previously reported to the children’s division within the department of social services under section 210.115.

3. An individual is not immune from liability under this section for:

(1) Disclosing the individual’s own conduct; or
(2) Any communication made with actual malice while making a disclosure described in subsection 1 of this section.

4. This section does not replace, limit, or alter any other defense or privilege available to a person based on communications.

Notes

  • Institutions disclosing sexual misconduct are protected: The statute protects organizations from civil liability in disclosing sexual misconduct by employees and representatives. This protection covers: charities, nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, and churches. The language of the statute also includes those who are representing these religious organizations to ensure that the reach of the statute is broad enough to encompass potential loopholes that predators may attempt to exploit. 
  • Disclosure about an individual’s own conduct is not protected: Those who are not immune to civil liability under this statute will include individuals who disclose their own sexual misconduct. 
  • Bad faith or malicious disclosures are not protected: A provision is included that specifically denies protection under the statute for disclosures made in bad faith or for a malicious purpose.
  • Covered allegations: The statute lists the following as sex crimes that are covered: sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, sexual harrasment and assault, and any offense that is commited under Missouri state law. 
  • Inclusion of “sexual misconduct”: The term “sexual misconduct” is not defined by the statute and is not a reference to another portion of the Missouri Code. This term is intentionally broad, as the purpose of the statute is to facilitate sharing of information that will protect the public.
  • Fitness for ministry provision: This provision is intended to ensure that fitness for ministerial service is protected discussion between two churches. The scope of this language is somewhat broader than sexual abuse, and this provision ensures that independent, congregationally governed churches are permitted to share information about ministerial fitness for prospective pastors and church leaders.
  • Limitation to properly reported situations: Subsection (2) includes a limitation on the applicability of the statute to misconduct that was properly reported to the authorities, if reporting was required under Missouri’s sexual abuse reporting statute. The rationale for this provision is that organizations should not benefit if they did not follow the law when the incident took place. Although this is an understandable rationale for such a provision, it should be noted that this will serve as a deterrent to sharing information about past abuse, which is the core purpose of the statute.