ERLC 2023 state policy updates

June 5, 2023

Many states are ending their legislative sessions at this time, making it an appropriate moment to look back at the previous cycles for issues of importance to Southern Baptists. At the ERLC, we were generally following trends in four major areas: 

In particular, the ERLC’s 2023 State Policy Review highlighted a number of potential pieces of legislation that were either causes of concern for Southern Baptists or were indicators of steps taken in agreement with biblical principles and evangelical convictions.

For many of the policies that the ERLC is watching, it should be noted that the process for state (and federal) legislation is often a long work. Thus, it is not uncommon for bills to be introduced and sit in a committee for several sessions before there is enough support among the legislators to bring it to the floor for debate and action. For state-level action, it is important to recognize the role that on-the-ground supporters and coalitions play in galvanizing support and encouraging legislators to take action rather than letting bills remain in subcommittees or be delayed by procedural measures. 

Religious liberty

During the 2023 legislative session, the ERLC was attentive to:

While not a comprehensive list of religious liberty concerns, they are emblematic of the issues which are of significant importance at this time. With the overturning of Roe, healthcare worker religious liberty exemptions are important so that workers are not forced to complete procedures that violate their deeply held convictions, namely abortions or gender transition surgery. 

Of the three bills that the ERLC highlighted as worth watching, two are still in committee in the state legislature:

The Michigan Religious Freedom Act has been given to the discharge committee as of March and will be scheduled for floor debate and vote. 

Sanctity of human life

The sanctity of human life is one area—possibly the area second only to religious liberty—where Southern Baptists have been the most consistent in their advocacy over the last four decades. With the Dobbs decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion, the importance of state-level restrictions, bans, and policy has been crucial to saving the lives of the preborn and protecting women from the predations of the abortion industry. 

A number of bills were referred to the various committees and subcommittees of their state legislatures but have unfortunately not progressed further such as: 

Though North Carolina did not move forward with House Bill 31, it did pass, after overriding the governor’s veto, the Care for Women, Children, and Families Act which bans abortion after 12 weeks and invests in childcare, foster care, and parental leave. While we were pleased to see this bill become law in North Carolina, we would like to see these legislatures take additional action in future sessions to bring these more robust pro-life protections to the full session to save preborn lives and protect taxpayers from participating in the horror of abortion. 

However, there are other bills which have stalled in committee, and the ERLC is glad to see them not advance such as. This includes the New York Medical Aid in Dying Act which has been referred to the state’s Health Committee. This act would allow terminally-ill patients to request and use medication to end their lives, a position at odds with the oath of doctors to do no harm and medicine’s first principles of healing.  

Two other bills that the ERLC was watching have been signed by the governors of the respective states. The first, Maryland House Bill 705, harmfully amends the Maryland Constitution to enshrine “reproductive rights,” codifying a right to abortion in the state constitution. This is a step that the ERLC opposes and that Southern Baptists have opposed as an attack on the dignity and worth of our preborn neighbors. 

However, on a more encouraging note, the governor of Wyoming signed into law Senate Bill 109 which prohibited the manufacture, distribution, prescription, dispensing, sale, or transfer of any chemical abortion drugs for the purpose of an abortion. As the rate of chemical abortions rises, bills like these will become more important as individuals turn to pharmacists rather than abortion providers for the means to procure an abortion. 

The decision in Dobbs has created an inflection point for state policy related to abortion, requiring Southern Baptists to be vigilant for how they can help to advance a culture of life in their state. 

Family & marriage

As the fundamental building block of society, the family is of utmost importance. The ERLC has watched as states have advanced polices that help to further promote this foundational element of civilization. Key among these are the ways that states have moved to advance pro-life policies by easing the burden of families for childbearing and parenting. For example, Indiana House Bill 1009, signed into law in April by the governor of Indiana,

Additionally, the New Hampshire Senate has approved Senate Bill 172 which extends Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits to foster families and guardians who were previously excluded. It now goes to the New Hampshire House Finance Committee for vote and consideration.

Other bills that the ERLC has been watching have been referred to various committees for consideration but have not moved forward. Chief among these are:

While we would have liked to see both of these bills move forward to protect children from the dangerous ideology of transgenderism, we were pleased to see Tennessee, alongside several other states, pass House and Senate Bill 1 which bans many harmful medical “gender-affirming care” procedures.  

Human dignity

The final major area that the ERLC is watching at the state level is that of human dignity. The ERLC advocates for laws that lead to human flourishing (Micah 6:8; Jam. 2:1-13) because we adhere to the truth that each person is made in the image of God, possessing inherent dignity and worth without impartiality. This includes advocacy for sexual abuse prevention measures such as:

Both bills are proactive steps toward combatting sexual abuse and warrant future action. 

Additionally, in keeping with the particular resolutions on criminal justice reform passed by the messengers at the SBC, the ERLC continues to watch the legislation in Oklahoma which assists prisoners in their reentry to society following their incarceration. Oklahoma Senate Bill 11, which would remove financial aid barriers for incarcerated students, is a helpful measure aimed at reducing recidivism. The bill has been passed by the House and introduced in the Senate.  

The ERLC also was encouraged to see legislators in Georgia and voters in Oklahoma reject proposals that would have negatively affected individuals. The Georgia Sports Betting Integrity Act would have legalized access to online sports betting in the state, an action likely to negatively impact the poor and young who are the most likely participants in sports betting. The proposal failed to advance after a vote in the state senate. The voters of Oklahoma also rejected a ballot initiative to allow recreational marijuana usage for anyone over the age of 21.  

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24