ERLC Opposes the Equality Act

By / Jun 27

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)

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 this bill is to protect individuals who identify as LGBT, the bill fails to respect people’s freedom of conscience. A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere. In its pursuit of fleeting cultural ideals, the Equality Act erodes foundational constitutional freedoms.

The Equality Act undermines decades of civil rights protections for women and girls. Women’s shelters for those escaping domestic abuse or homelessness would be forced to house biological males who identify as women. The Equality Act disregards the privacy and safety concerns that women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with the opposite sex. This legislation would also harm women’s sports and scholarships as girls would be forced to compete with biological males for limited positions.

The Equality Act threatens the efforts of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies. The legislation would explicitly curtail the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, thereby forcing faith-based child welfare organizations to either abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down. State enforced closures of such agencies is especially harmful at a time when multiple social crises increase the need for children services.

The Equality Act 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.

The Equality Act would also force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. This bill would roll back decades of conscience protections that protect pro-life nurses and physicians who object to participating in abortions because of their deeply held religious beliefs. No person should be compelled to participate in an act they believe to be the taking of a human life. Additionally, it would jeopardize the longstanding Hyde Amendment that protects federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion.

The Equality Act 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 civic tolerance. If enacted, the Equality Act would bring sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty with devastating effects to this foundational freedom. Due to these concerns, among many others, the ERLC strongly opposes the Equality Act.

What is the Equality Act?

By / Jun 27

Last week, the Equality Act was once again introduced into the House of Representatives and the Senate for consideration. This legislation intends to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. Last Congress, the Equality Act passed in the House, but the bill died in the Senate. 

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.” But the Equality Act does not advance the cause of human dignity. 

If passed, the Equality Act would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs about human dignity and marriage and would undermine decades of civil rights protections for women and girls. The alarmingly detrimental consequences of the bill pose a significant threat to the deeply held religious beliefs of millions of Americans who honor God’s design for sexuality.

What does this bill mean for religious liberty?

This bill would substantially undermine religious liberty protections in the United States. America has long been a place where people with different views and beliefs have lived at peace alongside each other. Though America has not perfectly lived up to this ideal of a shared nation, it was central to our founding as persecuted religious minorities sought safe harbor in this land. Though cleverly named, the Equality Act is out of step with that American ideal. Equality cannot be achieved while eliminating other basic, fundamental freedoms. Of particular note, the bill would essentially gut the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bill which passed with broad bipartisan support and was signed by President Clinton.

By undermining RFRA, the Equality Act would force faith-based child welfare organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down by the state. The state-forced closures of such agencies is especially detrimental at a time when multiple crises—including the post-pandemic effects and the ongoing opioid epidemic—have led to increases in the number of children in need of services.

What does the bill mean for women and girls?

Most strikingly, the Equality Act undermines decades of hard fought civil rights protections for women and girls. 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. This legislation disregards the privacy and safety concerns women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with the biological opposite sex.

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.

Are there pro-life concerns in the Equality Act?

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

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC has worked tirelessly to defeat this bill. We have partnered with a broad coalition of more than 85 faith-based nonprofits, religious entities, and institutions of higher education to highlight the dangers of the Equality Act. We have raised these concerns with members of Congress and the administration through coalition letters and countless meetings with members, administration officials, and their staff. We have also engaged in public advocacy against the bill by producing a suite of resources to inform Christians and the broader public about the pernicious threat of the so-called “Equality” Act.

What’s next?

In the prior Democrat-led House, the Equality Act passed 224-206, with three Republicans joining all 221 Democrats. In the 118th Congress, Republicans narrowly hold the majority seats, but the bill is unlikely to make it to the floor for a vote. Two of the three Republicans who voted in favor of the bill are no longer in Congress, which makes it even more difficult for Democrats to force a vote on the bill. Another obstacle is Speaker McCarthy’s commitment to unifying the Republican majority’s voice in the House to present a strong front before the American people. 

While it is unlikely the bill will be passed in this Congress, its continued appearance presents a larger, on-going threat to human dignity and religious liberty. The ERLC will continue to highlight how the Equality Act erodes fundamental freedoms and undermines the ability of Americans of diverse beliefs to work together for the common good.

How the ERLC is advocating for life and religious liberty in appropriations

By / Dec 6

As the U.S. Congress reconvenes after the election, it must work to either complete appropriations work or pass another continuing resolution (CR) by the end of December 16. Congress previously passed a short-term CR in September to fund the government through December 16. 

On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a six-bill minibus, which included Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Energy and Water Development; Financial Services and General Government; Interior, Environment; and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs. Though all bills have been passed out of committee, the House has not yet taken action on Commerce, Justice, and Science; Defense; Homeland Security; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education; Legislative Branch, or State, Foreign Operations.

The Senate has also released but not yet taken up its own version of these bills. If passed, these bills will have to be reconciled with the House versions. 

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 (Jer. 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 conscience protection policies because they uphold two of our most closely held convictions. First, we work to protect the consciences of our neighbors because we believe religious freedom is an inalienable human right, thankfully secured as the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. Second, protecting healthcare workers from the coercive power of the profit-seeking, on-demand abortion industry is a pro-life responsibility.

The ERLC opposes appropriations riders that deny 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. Many of the riders discussed below do the same. 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.

The FY2023 appropriations bills are troubling because they removes several longstanding pro-life riders from the budget. Just as last year, the Hyde Amendment has not been included in the Labor-HHS appropriations 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 condemning efforts to strip Hyde from any federal appropriations bills and called upon Congress to uphold all pro-life riders.

Additionally, the appropriations bills removed the Weldon Amendment for only the second time since 2005. The amendment protects the rights of conscience for healthcare professionals and institutions by preventing HHS from denying funding to recipients that refuse to provide, pay for or refer for abortion. The budget would also prohibit any president from reinstituting the Mexico City Policy, reestablished and expanded by President Donald Trump, as the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy.

Though excluded from the initially released bills last year, these pro-life and conscience protection riders were ultimately included in the final FY2022 appropriations package. It is our hope that the same will happen this year.

ERLC’s president, Brent Leatherwood, sent House and Senate leadership a letter urging them to defend protections against federal funds being used for abortion and to ensure that pro-life spending riders are approved in all spending legislation passed in the 117th Congress. He also urged Congress to remove harmful provisions that would exclude people of faith from serving the most vulnerable. 

Each year, the ERLC is actively engaged in the appropriations process, working alongside committee and leadership offices to ensure that important pro-life, religious liberty, and conscience protections are included. The ERLC will continue to advocate for these pro-life provisions and other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life. You can read the full list of our concerns as well as our letter to Senate leadership below.

Explainer: Why the ERLC still opposes the Respect for Marriage Act

By / Nov 29

Today, the Senate will once again take up the Respect for Marriage Act. Though the bill overcame the legislative filibuster with 62 members, 50 Democrats and 12 Republicans, voting in favor of moving forward with the bill before Thanksgiving, today’s vote will consider three potential amendments to the bill and then final passage. Once the bill is passed, it will return to the House for a vote on the amended legislation then proceed to President Biden.

The Senate had originally planned to take up the bill in July following its passage in the House of Representatives, but when concerns about the bill’s effects on religious liberty were raised, it was delayed until after the August recess and again until after last week’s midterm elections. In an effort to gain additional Republican support and overcome that 60-vote threshold, a bipartisan group of Senators amended the bill fixing the error that would have allowed for future recognition of polygamous relationships and attempting to assuage some religious liberty concerns. Though it could be argued that this amendment marginally improved the bill, the vast majority of religious liberty concerns remain insufficiently addressed. 

In light of that, three additional amendments have been proposed and will be voted on today. Though the ERLC will continue to oppose the Respect for Marriage Act because we fundamentally believe that God’s design for marriage is for our flourishing, these three amendments offer helpful solutions to many of our concerns in the bill, and we are advocating for their adoption. While we hope that this bill will ultimately fail, we want to see its harms mitigated if it does.

What is the Respect for Marriage Act?

The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced earlier this year with the purpose of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and codifying protections for same-sex marriage into law. That law gave a federal definition to “marriage” as being between one man and one woman, and “spouse”defined as “only a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.” After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in his concurring opinion that the “Supreme Court should reconsider opinions protecting same-sex relationships, marriage equality and access to contraceptives.” 

Though that view was explicitly rejected in the Dobbs majority opinion, in response, the Respect for Marriage Act was introduced and passed in the House of Representatives in July of this year. The bill passed, with all Democrats and 47 Republicans voting in support of the measure.

According to the bill summary, “the bill repeals and replaces provisions that define, for purposes of federal law, marriage as between a man and a woman and spouse as a person of the opposite sex with provisions that recognize any marriage that is valid under state law.” The bill goes even further as to “repeal and replace provisions that do not require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states with provisions that prohibit the denial of full faith and credit or any right or claim relating to out-of-state marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.” In the event that a state should choose to neglect these new provisions, the bill authorizes “the Department of Justice to bring a civil action and establishes a private right of action for violations.”

How does this impact religious liberty?

In a letter sent to the U.S. Senate on July 26, ERLC President Brent Leatherwood conveyed why the Respect for Marriage Act presents such grave religious liberty concerns for people of faith. He said, “Given the significant role marriage plays in faith, the ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ raises serious religious liberty concerns for individuals and organizations who maintain this view of marriage (the view that marriage is an institution created by God between one man and one woman for life) and are in contract with, funded by, or working jointly with the government.” 

Since Obergefell, rights of conscience and religious freedom have found themselves in the crosshairs of a number of notable cases including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021), each of which was ruled in favor of religious liberty. Should the Respect for Marriage Act find passage, however, we may rightly assume that rights of conscience and religious freedom will find themselves under threat yet again. 

What amendment was made?

In response to these concerns, Sens. Baldwin (D-WI), Collins (R-ME), Tillis (R-NC), Portmand (R-OH), and Synema (D-AZ) released a bipartisan amendment that fixed a previous issue around polygamous relationships and attempted to address concerns raised about the religious liberty of those who hold to a traditional view of marriage. 

Supporters claim the amendment, “Protects all religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or Federal law, including but not limited to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and prevents this bill from being used to diminish or repeal any such protection.” It also protects churches or “non-profit religious organizations” from being forced to provide goods and services for the “solemnization or celebration of marriage.” 

The amendment additionally tries to guarantee “that this bill may not be used to deny or alter any benefit, right, or status of an otherwise eligible person or entity – including tax-exempt status, tax treatment, grants, contracts, agreements, guarantees, educational funding, loans, scholarships, licenses, certifications, accreditations, claims, or defenses – provided that the benefit, right, or status does not arise from a marriage.”

Why is the amendment insufficient?

Though the ERLC is grateful for these marginal improvements to the original version of the bill, the bipartisan amendment does not provide adequate protections for religious liberty. This bill, even as amended, does not provide meaningful protection for those that maintain a traditional view of marriage. This amendment invites further confusion and litigation without offering sufficient security for the many faith-based organizations serving their communities outside of “solemnizing or celebrating marriages.” Through reiterating the protections that already exist in the law and using unhelpfully vague language, the amendment appears to offer people and institutions of faith more additional protection than it actually does.

What other amendments have been proposed?

In response to the adopted amendment’s shortcomings, three additional amendments have been proposed from Senators Lee (R-UT), Lankford (R-OK), and Rubio (R-FL) to try and address these problems. Senator Lee’s amendment would “prohibit the federal government from retaliating against any person or group for adhering to sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions about marriage.” Because this amendment was ruled as not germane, it will require 60 votes to be adopted, making its inclusion unlikely.

Senator Lankford and Senator Rubio’s amendments are more narrowly tailored to the bill and, thus, only require 50 votes for inclusion. Senator Lankford’s proposed amendment would significantly narrow the scope of the bill and would address the gaps in religious liberty protections included in the previously adopted Baldwin amendment. Senator Rubio’s amendment is even more narrowly focused, striking the private right of action that is included in the bill. 

The Lee, Lankford, and Rubio amendments all significantly improve this flawed bill. Though ERLC will continue to work against the bill’s ultimate passage, it is our desire that these helpful changes will be adopted.

At a fundamental level, this issue transcends electoral politics. For the ERLC, this is about human flourishing, love for our neighbors, and faithfulness to God’s Word. Underlying the SBC’s commitment to biblical marriage is a verse from the first book in Scripture: “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Aside from the multitude of religious liberty challenges this bill poses, we ultimately oppose it because we hold fast to this understanding of God’s design of marriage as being between one man and one woman for life, and we know that this biblical framework undergirds a healthy society and promotes human flourishing.

Advocacy priorities for the ERLC in the Lame Duck Session 

By / Nov 14

Though results are still coming in from Tuesday’s midterm elections that will determine which party controls the House of Representatives, Congress is coming back in session today with a long list of legislative items to do before the end of the year. This session between the election and the swearing in of the new Congress in January is called the Lame Duck session.

This year, Congress must pass either an omnibus appropriations bill (a budget for this 2023 fiscal year) or another continuing resolution by December 16 to avoid a government shutdown and fund the government, as well as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), before the end of the year. Additionally, Congressional leaders have indicated that they may use this time to pass the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate, reform the Electoral Count Act, take up permitting reforms, or raise the debt ceiling. As uncertainty lingers and fallout grows from Republicans’ disappointing electoral results, it remains to be seen exactly what will be done before the end of the year.

The Lame Duck also presents a unique opportunity for smaller, bipartisan bills to be passed into law. Oftentimes, these bills will be added on to the omnibus or NDAA packages. Other times, retiring lawmakers or those who were not reelected will be more willing to take votes that go against their party because they will not have to face voters following this session. These dynamics come together to occasionally allow bills to find passage that have been stuck in Congressional gridlock.

As we enter into this important legislative session, the ERLC will be advocating on behalf of Southern Baptists to uphold life and religious liberty and pursue biblical justice for the vulnerable. In this session, the ERLC’s top priorities will be protecting life and religious liberty in appropriations, opposing the Respect for Marriage Act, and advocating for permanent protections for Dreamers and Afghans in the US.

Protecting life and religious liberty in appropriations

Congress must either complete its appropriations work or pass another continuing resolution (CR) by the end of December 16. Congress previously passed a short-term CR in September to fund the government through December 16. 

On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a six-bill minibus, which included Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Energy and Water Development; Financial Services and General Government; Interior, Environment; and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs. Though all bills have been passed out of committee, the House has not yet taken action on Commerce, Justice, and Science; Defense; Homeland Security; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education; Legislative Branch, or State, Foreign Operations. The Senate has also released but not yet taken up its own version of these bills. If passed, these bills will have to be reconciled with the House versions. 

The FY2023 appropriations bills are troubling because they remove several longstanding pro-life riders from the budget. Just as last year, the Hyde Amendment has not been included in the Labor-HHS appropriations 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 condemning efforts to strip Hyde from any federal appropriations bills and called upon Congress to uphold all pro-life riders.

Additionally, the appropriations bills removed the Weldon Amendment for only the second time since 2005. Weldon protects the rights of conscience for healthcare professionals and institutions by preventing HHS from denying funding to recipients that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer for abortion. The budget would also prohibit any president from reinstituting the Mexico City Policy, reestablished and expanded by President Trump, as the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy.

Though excluded from the initially released bills last year, these pro-life and conscience protection riders were ultimately included in the final FY2022 appropriations package. It is our hope that the same will happen this year. The ERLC is urging Congress to support protections against federal funds being used for abortion and to ensure that pro-life spending riders are approved in all spending legislation passed in the 117th Congress. We also are urging Congress to remove harmful provisions that would exclude people of faith from serving the most vulnerable. 

Opposing the Respect for Marriage Act

The Respect for Marriage Act is a bill that seeks to “repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and codify federal recognition for marriage equality.” As stated in the bill summary, “the bill repeals and replaces provisions that define, for purposes of federal law, marriage as between a man and a woman and spouse as a person of the opposite sex with provisions that recognize any marriage that is valid under state law.” The Respect for Marriage Act would also permit the Department of Justice “to bring a civil action” and would establish “a private right of action for violations.”

The Respect for Marriage Act is a federal legislative attempt to entrench, nationwide, the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which ruled that “state laws barring same-sex marriages were unconstitutional.” At its core, this bill is a further attempt by Congress to redefine marriage, a union that need not be redefined and which government has no authority to redefine.

On July 19, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Respect for Marriage Act with broad bipartisan support. The final vote was 267-157, with 47 Republicans joining with all Democrats in support of the bill. Before it can become law, the bill must be passed in the Senate and be signed by the president. For the bill to pass, 10 GOP senators will have to join all Democrats to overcome the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold. Senate Majority Leader Schumer has indicated that he plans to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, and sponsors indicate that they believe they will have enough votes 

In addition to going against the biblical definition of marriage, the bill poses serious problems for religious liberty. In a letter sent to the Senate on July 26, ERLC President Brent Leatherwood conveyed why the Respect for Marriage Act presents such grave religious liberty concerns for people of faith. He said, “Given the significant role marriage plays in faith, the ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ raises serious religious liberty concerns for individuals and organizations who maintain this view of marriage (the view that marriage is an institution created by God between one man and one woman for life) and are in contract with, funded by, or working jointly with the government.” 

Since Obergefell, rights of conscience and religious freedom have found themselves in the crosshairs of a number of notable cases including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021), each of which was ruled in favor of religious liberty. Should the Respect for Marriage Act find passage, however, we may rightly assume that rights of conscience and religious freedom will find themselves under threat yet again. The ERLC strongly opposes the Respect for Marriage Act and will continue to work against its passage in the Senate. 

Advocating for Dreamers and Afghans

Two populations of vulnerable people in need of Congressional action before a new Congress is sworn in are Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought here by their undocumented parents, and Afghan evacuees, who were brought to the United States through humanitarian parole after the fall of Afghanistan last year.

A recent decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) to be unlawful but temporarily allowed Dreamers, who currently hold DACA status, to temporarily maintain their status. The decision is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, where it is expected that the high court will uphold the decision, terminating the program. This recent decision means that Congressional action for Dreamers is needed more urgently than ever before.

Dreamers, through DACA, only have temporary protection with no path to legal permanent residency or citizenship, and only Congress is able to pass legislation that creates such a pathway to permanency. For now, these young immigrants, who were brought here at no fault of their own and have known no other home than the U.S., remain in severe uncertainty, facing potential future deportation if the DACA program were to be terminated.

Similarly, last year during the fall of Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghans who had served with the U.S. military or were especially vulnerable to persecution from the Taliban were evacuated to the U.S. through a tool known as humanitarian parole. Though this tool allows individuals to reach safety much faster than through the refugee resettlement program, it only provides two years of legal status and work authorization, whereas the refugee program includes a route to legal permanent residency or citizenship.

As these individuals approach two years in the U.S. this upcoming summer, they will be forced to either enter our backlogged asylum system, become undocumented and lose their ability to work legally, or face deportation back to Afghanistan, where they will almost assuredly face intense persecution. To remedy this problem, Congress must act to provide these individuals with a pathway to permanent status in the United States. The Afghan Adjustment Act would provide this protection for Afghans while also increasing national security through additional vetting procedures.

Both of these groups of people have an urgent need for Congressional action. Additionally, Kevin McCarthy, who is likely to be the future Speaker of the House of Representatives if Republicans win the majority, as expected, has indicated that he will oppose any immigration legalization legislation and block it from coming to the House floor for a vote. This reality makes it essential for Congress to take up protections for both Dreamers and Afghans before the new Congress begins. The ERLC is urging Congress to act quickly and provide a pathway to permanency for these vulnerable groups that have already become integral parts of our churches and communities. 

Explainer: House passes extreme pro-abortion legislation

By / Sep 24

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill titled the “Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021.” This vote was largely along party lines, with every Republican and only one Democrat, Rep. Cuellar (D-TX), voting against the harmful bill. This piece of legislation is one of the most pro-abortion bills to have ever passed the House.

Speaker Pelosi brought this bill to the House floor as a direct response to the lifesaving Texas Heartbeat Act (SB8) that went into effect at the beginning of September.

What is the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021? 

The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021 removes all restrictions and limits on abortion and allows for abortion up to the point of birth. Additionally, this bill removes all pro-life protections at the federal and state levels and eliminates a state’s ability to legislate on abortion. This bill also fails to protect the conscience of American taxpayers and would force taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions. Longstanding pro-life protections such as the Hyde Amendment and the Weldon Amendment would be removed.

Despite the bill’s name, vulnerable women and families will only be put more at risk if the Women’s Health Protection Act were to ever become law. Additionally, 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 on 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.

This bill is extraordinarily pro-abortion and ought to shock and grieve our consciences.

How is the ERLC involved?

The ERLC is strongly opposed to this bill and any effort to legalize abortion. We urge the Senate not to pass this destructive piece of legislation. It would put thousands of vulnerable, preborn lives at risk and steamroll over the the consciences of millions of Americans who do not wish to pay for or be compelled to provide abortions.

The ERLC will always advocate for life before Congress, the courts, and in the public square, and we’re are working toward a day when abortion is both unnecessary and unthinkable. We desire to see a culture where mothers are supported and provided with resources and where life is honored and valued. 

Explainer: Federal court blocks controversial transgender mandate for healthcare professionals

By / Aug 11

This week, a federal court in Texas ruled that it is unlawful to force healthcare professionals to violate their consciences for gender transition procedures. This is good news for children, families, and Christians who want to continue serving in roles without conforming to “the latest fashionable ‘right side of history’ cause.”

What is the history of this issue?

In 2016, as a part of the implementation of Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama Administration’s Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) promulgated a rule requiring medical providers to perform and insure abortions and gender-transition procedures or face penalties. Section 1557 of the ACA is the nondiscrimination provision of the ACA, and the scope was broadened by redefining “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The regulations came to be called the transgender mandate, because it would require physicians to provide gender reassignment surgeries and administer hormones to facilitate gender reassignment, including to children, even if the doctor believed the procedure would be harmful.

In response to the issuance of these new regulations, two lawsuits were filed on behalf of multiple religious organizations, healthcare providers, and several states. The ERLC supported the move to challenge the mandate. Later that year, the District Court held in Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell that HHS erroneously interpreted “sex” under Title IX — that the final rule was arbitrary and capricious when Title IX “unambiguously refers to the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.” The District Court further ruled that the Final Rule’s failure to include religious exemptions likely violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In 2020, the Trump administration finalized a rule reversing the Obama administration’s regulations on Section 1557 and narrowed the definition of “sex.” Days after the Trump administration finalized their rule, in a 6-3 ruling authored by Justice Gorsuch and styled Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” for the purposes of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

In 2021, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS announced that it will interpret and enforce the Affordable Care Act and Title IX’s nondiscrimination provision and expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The Office of Civil Rights used the Bostock decision as a justification for its redefinition of “sex.”

What was the court case about?

A second lawsuit challenging the mandate was also filed by Catholic hospital, a Christian healthcare professional association of over 20,000 healthcare professionals, and nine states, objecting to performing gender-transition procedures. Collectively, they asserted that performing these procedures was harmful. The medical professionals involved gladly served all patients, regardless of their sexual and gender identity, but contend that being forced to perform gender-transition procedures would constitute a violation of their conscience rights. 

This is now the second court ruling blocking the administration from enforcing the policy. The first ruling was handed by a federal court in North Dakota.

What’s next?

These rulings were good news for children, families, and Christians who want to continue serving in roles without conforming to “the latest fashionable ‘right side of history’ cause.”

However, the Biden administration appealed the court’s ruling, once again sending a group of Catholic nuns who run health clinics to care for the elderly and the poor back to court. 

On Dec. 15, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in this case titled Sisters of Mercy v. Becerra. Religious freedom advocates once again made the case that the transgender mandate violates the consciences and religious liberty of these healthcare providers.

The ERLC will always promote and defend the human dignity, religious liberty, and conscience rights of all people and religious organizations — within each administration, on Capitol Hill, and throughout the public square.

Explainer: Understanding the Ethiopian civil war

By / Aug 3

Since November, the Ethiopian government and a regional military group have been engaged in a struggle for power and control over Tigray, the northern region of Ethiopia. On June 28, rebels known as the Tigray Defense Forces occupied Mekelle, Tigray’s capital city, following the retreat of Ethiopian government troops, marking a major shift in the country’s ongoing civil war. Tigrayan leaders claim to be fighting for the restoration of their regional autonomy, guaranteed under Ethiopia’s constitution as a part of its governing system of ethnic federalism, while Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to preserve the country and its developing democracy. 

How long has the conflict been going on, and why?

Tigray has been occupied by Ethiopian military occupation and denied communications through the internet for eight months in an effort to isolate the rebellion. The national military invaded the region in conjunction with the national army of Eritrea, Ethiopia’s northern neighbor, in order to take control from the regional government known as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a longstanding political party. However, the Tigray Defense Forces have been reorganizing their armies to push back against the occupation, an effort that has escalated in the past week with their counterattack on Mekelle. 

For many months investigations on the conflict in Tigray were inconclusive because the Ethiopian government blacked-out communications from the region. The only commmunications from northern Ethiopia reported continued combat as well as growing reports of atrocities such as rape and civilian killings. Now, it is clear that Tigrayan forces are on the counterattack. 

What specific events led up to the occupation shift in Mekelle?

A deadly incident occurred on Tuesday, June 22, when a government airstrike killed dozens of people in a market in Tigray. Tigrayan forces would strike back a day later by shooting down an Ethiopian Air Force C-130 cargo plane over Mekelle. Ethiopian forces have since abandoned many strategic posts throughout southern Tigray, and thousands of their soldiers have been claimed to be captured by the Tigrayan military.

On Monday, June 28, the Ethiopian government announced it had called a unilateral cease-fire in Tigray, but it wasn’t clear if Tigrayan forces accepted the measure. Throughout the rest of the day, Ethipoian forces were spotted in vehicles leaving Mekelle. Later that afternoon, the interim government’s headquarters in Tigray were empty as federal police officers were seen boarding buses outside of the building. The strategy of the Ethiopian government is unclear, but nonetheless, Tigray is gaining ground.

How are Ethiopians and others reacting to this conflict?

The powerful advances of the Tigray Defense Forces are stripping the authority and credibility of Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister. Ahmed, a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been primarily concerned with democratising Ethiopia since beginning his position in 2018. Seven months into the civil war, his country is only becoming more divided. Christopher Clapham, an expert on Ethiopia at Cambridge University, believes the democratic efforts of Ahmed need a stronger coalition as a foundation for a new structure of the country. Drastic shifts through one prime minister could explain some of the backlash.

When Mekelle changed hands from Ethiopian occupation to Tigray Defense Forces, the city erupted in a celebration, complete with flags and fireworks. According to The New York Times, one passionate Tigrayan resident declared: “They invaded us. Abiy is a liar and a dictator, but he is defeated already. Tigray will be an independent country!”

Residents of Ethiopia, as well as international onlookers, are concerned that the new government will reject any outsiders and cause humanitarian crises as institutions are undermined by war. Ethiopia is briefing diplomats from Britain, Germany, Spain, and the United States on the potential for continued conflict as it seeks to preserve the Ethiopian federation. Although Tsadkan Gebretensae, commander of the Tigray Defense Forces, has called for a negotiated ceasefire in principle, he quickly followed that call by stating: “if there is no other choice, then the next choice will be: try to resolve [the war] militarily.” 

Pray for peace in Ethiopia, for the protection of its citizens, and for Christians to be able to minister to the physical and spiritual needs around them with the hope of Christ. 

ERLC intern Ethan Lamb contributed to this article.

ERLC submits amicus brief in important abortion case at the Supreme Court

By / Jul 30


The ERLC has submitted an amicus brief in an important Supreme Court case that could affect the future of abortion in America. The amicus brief explains why the court should overturn Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), twin decisions that have prevented states from prohibiting abortion.  

“For too long, the Roe and Casey decisions have allowed our nation to turn a blind eye to the plight of those who have no voice,” said Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, ERLC’s acting director of public policy. “Our brief asks the Court to overturn those two cases and set a new precedent that respects every life. With each passing day, more and more people recognize preborn lives are worthy of protection. The Dobbs case provides another chance for the Court to come to that same conclusion and affirm the fundamental right to life.”

An amicus brief is a learned treatise submitted by an amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”), someone who is not a party to a case who offers information that bears on the case but that has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court. The amicus brief is a way to introduce concerns ensuring that the possibly broad legal effects of a court decision will not depend solely on the parties directly involved in the case.

ERLC joined other religious organizations — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — in filing the brief in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The Supreme Court agreed this past May to revisit a previous decision “by reviewing a Mississippi law that would replace the ‘viability standard’ with a limit on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.” Viability refers to the stage of development at which an unborn child is capable of living, under normal conditions, outside the uterus. The viability standard is the primary justification for supporting federal legal precedents regarding abortion. Gerard Bradley, a law professor at Notre Dame, says, “the removal of the judicially created barrier of ‘viability’ could let loose a cascade of pre-viability prohibitions, and in due course test the hypothesis that there is no principled, coherent stopping point between removal of the ‘viability’ standard and flat-out reversal of Roe.”

The brief ERLC joined requests that the Supreme Court uphold the Mississippi ban and says the U.S. Constitution “does not create a right to an abortion of an unborn child before viability or at any other stage of pregnancy. An asserted right to abortion has no basis in constitutional text or in American history and tradition.”

The brief also points out that the state has an interest in protecting human life. 

“Government has many responsibilities. Chief among them is protecting innocent life,” said Brent Leatherwood, ERLC chief of staff. “How much more important is that responsibility when it comes to protecting preborn lives that cannot speak for themselves? Christians have long pleaded the case for America to recognize the inherent dignity of our most vulnerable neighbors. This case gives us another opportunity to do so. Until that happens, our nation will not be able to fully achieve that lofty goal of being a land that preserves life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every individual.”

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case sometime between October and April, and should issue a ruling next summer.

The ERLC will always advocate for life, in the public square, before the courts, and before Congress.

4 important SCOTUS cases for life and religious liberty

By / Jul 28

The ERLC engages our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ in the public square to protect religious liberty and promote human flourishing. 

One of the ways we do this is by advocating for these things before the Supreme Court. The most recent term of the court contained some important cases that advanced the cause of religious liberty in the United States. Additionally, the court has granted cert (agreed to hear the case) for some important cases pertaining to the issue of life and religious liberty next term. 

SCOTUS: Looking back to last term

Below are a few cases of importance from the previous term that were wins for religious liberty.

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

In June, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that faith-based foster care and adoption providers such as Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia can continue serving children and families according to their convictions. The ERLC called the decision a “decisive win for religious liberty” when it was announced.

In 2018, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer informed the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services that two of its private foster care agencies, including CSS, would not work with same-sex couples as foster parents. The city investigated the allegation, which it considered a violation of the City’s anti-discrimination laws. When the agencies confirmed their religious views on marriage as essential for placement — although no same-sex couple had ever attempted to partner with CSS — the department ceased referring foster children to them and demanded they change their religious practices or close down their ministries. 

The plaintiffs in this case were Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, foster moms who wanted to continue caring for children in need. Fulton and Simms-Busch filed a lawsuit on behalf of CSS claiming the Philadelphia government had violated their rights under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise, Establishment, and Free Speech Clauses, as well as under Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom Protection Act. The lawsuit asked the courts for an order requiring the city government to renew their contractual relationship while permitting CSS to maintain their religious convictions. In July 2018, the district court denied the request, and the case was immediately appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the court ruled against CSS and refused to protect the agency while its litigation proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court held that the City of Philadelphia infringed Catholic Social Services’ free exercise rights by refusing to renew its contract with CSS on the basis of the City’s agency contract and citywide Fair Practices Ordinance. These ordinances were in conflict with CSS’s core beliefs related to marriage and sexuality, and Philadelphia provided no religious exemption for CSS or groups like CSS.

For further reading:

Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

In March, the Supreme Court ruled that governments can be held accountable for past violations of First Amendment freedoms. The 8-1 ruling in a case entitled Uzuegbunam et al. v. Preczewski et al. held that a “request for nominal damages” may be used to establish legal standing to address a previous violation of a constitutional right. The ERLC argued “it is a fundamental harm for the state to infringe upon a person’s right to religion or free expression” in its brief submitted to the Court for the case and applauded this decision for affirming that view.

In 2016, Chike Uzuegbunam, then a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, talked with interested students about his Christian faith and distributed literature on campus grounds. A campus police officer approached Uzuegbunam and informed him that the college had a policy in place that prohibited the distribution of religious materials unless they were within two designated free speech areas. 

After acquiring the necessary permit to speak in one of these zones, Uzuegbunam was again asked to stop by the campus police because another policy limited speech within those zones that “disturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s).” The officer told Uzuegbunam that his speech violated these policies and threatened him with disciplinary action should he continue. Due to these events, both Uzuegbunam and another student who shared Uzuegbunam’s faith, Joseph Bradford, stopped speaking about their faith in these so-called “free speech” areas.

Both Uzuegbunam and Bradford sued college officials for enforcing these policies, arguing that the restrictions constituted a violation of their rights under the First Amendment. The students sought both injunctive relief and nominal damages. The request for injunctive relief — a legal order that would suspend the policy — was dismissed as college officials chose to discontinue their policies rather than defend them. However, the students continued to press their claim for nominal damages — a small sum of money sought in order to secure a legal judgement in a case — which was heard before the Supreme Court in January of this year.

This case is an important case in the areas of free speech and the free exercise of religion in an area with little case law on this topic — college campuses. As a public university, Georgia Gwinnett College should have allowed Uzuegbunam to express his views freely. Instead, they sought to deny his First Amendment right to free speech until he graduated, at which point they changed their policies and argued that the case should be dismissed as moot (i.e., dismissed by the court because the policy has been rescinded and there was therefore no longer a live controversy between the parties). In requesting “nominal damages,” Uzuegbunam argued the university should not escape accountability and retain the ability to restore the problematic policies after his graduation. 

Students like Uzuegbunam do not give up their civil liberties when they decide to attend public colleges and universities. Until now, these schools were able to infringe the rights of students through these controversial policies, only to change the policy at the eleventh hour or wait for the student’s graduation. Uzuegbunam’s case will allow the federal courts to provide relief for students for the first time.

For further reading:

SCOTUS: Looking ahead

Below are a few cases that the Supreme Court has granted cert on and will hear oral arguments on this autumn. These cases could have major implications on the issue of life and religious liberty.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

In mid-May, the Supreme Court granted cert on a case reviewing a Mississippi law that would replace the ‘viability standard’ with a limit on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The issue the court will be deciding is whether pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitional.

Mississippi passed a law in 2018 titled the “Gestational Age Act,” prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks except in a medical emergency and in cases of severe fetal abnormality. According to the findings in the legislation, “an unborn human being’s vital organs begin to function at ten weeks’ gestation. Hair, fingernails, and toenails also begin to form.” And “at twelve weeks’ gestation, an unborn human being can open and close his or her fingers, starts to make sucking motions, and senses stimulation from the world outside the womb.” 

A doctor with Jackson Women’s Health Organization filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging the law and requesting an emergency temporary restraining order (TRO). A district court enjoined Mississippi from enforcing the law, finding that the state had not provided evidence that a fetus would be viable at 15 weeks. Additionally, the district court believed that the Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from banning abortions prior to viability. The decision in this case could have implications for the protections of the unborn.

Oral arguments for the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case will be scheduled for later this term.

For further reading:

Carson v. Makin

According to the facts of this case, “The State of Maine relies on local school administrative units (SAUs) to ensure that every school-age child in the state has access to a free education. To be an “approved” school, a private school must meet the state’s compulsory attendance requirements, and it must be “nonsectarian in accordance with the First Amendment.”

Three families sent their children to private schools that are accredited but do not meet the nonsectarian requirement because they are religiously affiliated. The schools aren’t approved by the State of Maine, and the families did not qualify for tuition assistance. They filed a lawsuit stating that nonsectarian” requirement violates the Constitution on its face and as applied.

The question this case will be deciding is whether the state violates Religion Clauses or the Equal Protection Clause by prohibiting students participating in an otherwise generally available student-aid program from choosing to use their aid to attend schools that provide religious instruction.

Oral arguments for the Carson v. Makin case will be this October.

For further reading:

ERLC and coalition of religious liberty organizations file brief before the U.S. Supreme Court requesting protection against unconsitutional discrimination against religious entities

Arlene’s Flowers

Lastly, it’s important to note that the Supreme Court refused to grant cert to Arlene’s Flowers.

In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, made news for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage. While she never refused to provide flowers for her LGBT customers, Stutzman’s conscience would not allow her to use her artistic gifts in a way that would celebrate something that she believed was wrong. 

Forcing Stutzman to make flowers for the celebration of a same-sex marriage is, in essence, a form of compelled speech, which violates her freedom of speech and religion. Her case has been circulating in the courts for years. Here is a helpful timeline from Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization representing Barronelle, 

“In July 2017, ADF petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Barronelle’s case. In June 2018, the Court sent the case back to the Washington Supreme Court, after vacating that court’s decision and instructing it to reconsider her lawsuit in light of the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In June 2019, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against Barronelle a second time. ADF attorneys have once again asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take her case.”

It is extremely disheartening that the Supreme Court declined to grant cert to this important case.

For further reading:

While we’ve worked diligently and pray earnestly that the Supreme Court will make decisions that uphold life, religious liberty, and the freedom of conscience, we ultimately place our trust in God to fulfil his plans and use the work of the ERLC along the way. As the psalmist declares, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psa. 20:7 NIV).