ERLC Legislative Agenda 2015

February 11, 2015

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This year brings the beginning of the 114th Congress, and with it new opportunities to advance legislative issues important to Southern Baptists. The following is a partial listing of the various legislative and policy initiatives we will engage this year as part of our stewardship of God’s design for government. Some of these initiatives are carryovers from the previous Congress, others are new developments. While not exhaustive, this agenda provides insight into the range of issues the ERLC will attempt to address in the coming year.

Sanctity of Human Life

Of all the areas of interest to the ERLC, the sanctity of human life remains a chief concern. Psalm 139 reminds us that God is intimately involved in the development of every person. He is also concerned about how people treat each other. Jesus said that we are to act in love toward each other (Luke 10:25-37). The first act of love we can show toward fellow humans is to seek to protect them in their most vulnerable stage—in the womb. While we are not yet at the place politically or culturally to reverse the horrific 1973 Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion on demand, we believe some steps to rein in the worst abuses are possible. Several bills offer us the opportunity to do just that.

The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (S. 50) amends the Public Health Service Act to codify the Hyde-Weldon Amendment. Hyde-Weldon prohibits the federal government and any state or local government that receives federal financial assistance from subjecting any health professional, hospital, provider sponsored organization, health maintenance organization, accountable care organization, health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan from discriminating against entities that refuse to participate in abortion-related activities. The bill also includes a private right of action for health care providers to file suit against a discriminating governmental entity. Language was included in last year’s package of bills to keep the government running (A.K.A. the Cromnibus) instructing the Administration to investigate violations of the Hyde-Weldon Amendment in California law. But until we have a law codifying Hyde-Weldon, we will continue to see efforts to marginalize those with pro-life convictions. Neither chamber has voted on the bill.

Parents should be informed before their minor daughter is subjected to an abortion. The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (S. 404) would significantly address this concern. It prohibits the transportation of a minor girl across state lines for an abortion to circumvent parental notification or parental consent laws in the girl’s home state. The bill also requires an abortion provider in a state without a parental notification requirement to notify a parent before performing an abortion on a minor girl from another state. Neither chamber has voted on the bill.

Based on strong evidence that unborn babies experience pain by 20 weeks gestation, if not earlier, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36) prohibits performing or attempting to perform abortions on babies at 20 weeks or greater gestation, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. The House was poised to vote on this bill on January 22, 2015, during the March for Life. Leadership pulled the bill at the last minute due to concerns raised by a few members of Congress about requirements that victims of rape or incest must report the crime to law enforcement. Revised reporting language is being worked on now. The Senate also has yet to act on it.

When they pulled the Pain Capable bill, House leadership brought the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015 (H.R. 7) up for a vote. This bill combines two originally separate bills. It does two things. First, it establishes a government-wide statutory prohibition on funding elective abortion by codifying a patchwork of funding-restrictive policies. Currently, many of these must be reauthorized as riders to annual appropriations bills. Second, it requires that consumers be made aware of the extent to which abortion is covered in health insurance plans and the cost of this coverage in the plans they are considering. The government funding bill passed by Congress late last year (A.K.A. the Cromnibus) included language instructing the Administration “to provide additional clarification” on abortion provisions in health plans. H.R. 7 will help assure this is done. The bill passed in the House, and is awaiting action in the Senate. We also support the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act (S. 51/H.R. 217). This bill prohibits the government from directing Title X family planning funds to family planning agencies that provide abortions or provide funds to any other entity that performs abortions. Neither chamber has voted on this bill.

Our country’s commitment to eliminating discrimination based on sex should extend to every stage of human life. The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) (S. 48) seeks to uphold that conviction. The bill prohibits sex selection abortion and the coercion of a woman to obtain an abortion based on the sex of the unborn child. The legislation also enables civil penalties to be levied against those who aid or support such abortions. Regrettably, S. 48 does not address race selection abortion. In the 113th Congress, the House version of this bill included a prohibition on racial discrimination in abortion. We are seeking this inclusion in the House version this Congress as well. Neither chamber has voted on the bill.

Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is a first right. God gave humans the freedom to decide whether or not to worship Him. He made the human conscience and He intended it to be inviolable (Matthew 23:37). If God will not violate the religious freedom He granted to humanity, government should not either. The ERLC will continue to work to protect faith from governmental interference, as we believe God would have us do. The following are some of the issues we will engage.

Religious minorities continue to face mounting persecution in many places around the world. Minority Christian groups are being brutally attacked in some areas. Anti-semitism is on the rise in some places as well. We were very pleased that the Administration nominated Rabbi David Saperstein for the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department. While we have expressed concerns about some of Rabbi Saperstein’s social views, we are deeply impressed by his decades-long record in advocating for the kinds of religious freedom protections needed right now in the international context. Rabbi Saperstein’s position provides counsel to the president and other administration decision-makers regarding religious freedom violators around the world. He will also advocate for religious freedom around the world. We will work closely with Rabbi Saperstein to help protect religious freedom for all people of faith.

Last year, Congress also passed the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2014 (S. 653/H.R. 301). We strongly supported passage of this bill. This law directs the president to appoint a special envoy in the State Department to promote religious freedom of religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The president has not appointed this person yet. We will continue to emphasize the importance of this role, especially in light of what is happening to religious minorities of all faiths in this region.

This year, we will also find ourselves working tirelessly to ensure reauthorization of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). This Commission conducts research on religious freedom violations around the world and offers to the State Department and Congress counsel and recommendations for action on violators. The Commission has gone through a number of changes the last few years. Its existence was extended into 2015, but it needs a longer term authorization. We believe the Commission is functioning extremely well and fills a needed role in monitoring religious freedom around the world. We will work to ensure its long-term viability.

Threats to religious freedom come in many forms. The Affordable Care Act has introduced a number of concerns. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act would protect religious freedom under health care in three ways: (1) issues a full exemption from the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate for those objecting due to deeply held religious convictions; (2) provides conscience protections for individuals and health care entities that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer patients to abortion providers; and (3) applies a private right of action to ensure that victims of discrimination can seek redress in court. As of the release of this agenda, the bill has not been introduced in either chamber.

As our government embraces an unbiblical view of marriage, it is likely that those with religious convictions that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman will come under scrutiny. The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which was introduced in the 113th Congress, prohibits the federal government from taking an adverse action against a person if the person acts in accordance with a religious belief that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.

Additionally, we are continuing to work with lawmakers and other interested groups to introduce a bill that would protect the religious freedom of adoption agencies to place children in homes according to their convictions, especially as they relate to marriage.

We are also still closely monitoring the situation for men and women of faith in our nation’s armed services. We are pleased to have been able to join with other concerned groups to have important religious liberty protection language for chaplains and military personnel added to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The language protects the right of service members to hold and freely practice their religious beliefs. In addition, language protecting the rights of chaplains to conduct their ministries in accordance with the dictates of their conscience without fear of reprisal was approved earlier in 2013. We will continue to work this year with other concerned groups to seek ways to continue to protect the right of our men and women serving in harm’s way to live out the dictates of their faith as they put their lives on the line for their country.

At times, the ERLC finds itself in the position of opposing legislation as well. One of the pieces of legislation we will continue to oppose this Congress is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This bill prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity by employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or joint labor-management committees. While it exempts some overtly religious organizations, it does not take into consideration all faith-based organizations or the faith-informed convictions of for-profit business owners. It also threatens the ability of people of faith to share their faith-informed convictions about sexuality without fear of retaliation.

Marriage and Family

God ordained the family and rooted it in the union of one man and one woman. The book of Genesis tells us that God determined it was not good for man to be alone. He instituted marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman, and He intended children to be conceived and raised in that environment (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25). Our culture may be moving away from that ideal, but that does not change God’s design. Family breakdown is also not in the best interest of men, women, children, and society. The ERLC will do all it can to protect God’s design for marriage and speak to the needs of families in 2015. Here are a few ways we will do that legislatively.

As courts continue to strike down the rights of citizens to define marriage in their states, a federal legislative solution becomes ever more needed. The State Marriage Defense Act would instruct the federal government to look to a person’s state of legal residence when determining marital status and application of federal marriage law. The bill also lets each state decide for itself who qualifies within their state for marriage benefits. With the Supreme Court set to rule this year on the constitutionality of state efforts to define marriage as only the union of one man and one woman, we are watching closely to determine if this bill or something additional is needed in response.

We will work to remove barriers to adoption. Tens of thousands of children around the world are living in orphanages. Yet there are many good families in this country eager to adopt them. Our country can do more to help connect these children with loving families. Both will benefit as a result. The Children in Families First Act simplifies the process for families seeking to adopt children internationally and helps foreign governments develop stronger child welfare systems that can find a caring family for every child in need. Among other things, the bill would create a focal point within the U.S. State Department for vulnerable children and family security; streamline responsibility for nearly all processing of intercountry adoption cases in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); and establish a Center of Excellence within USAID, dedicated to implementation of the 2012 National Action Plan on Children in Adversity. The bill has not been introduced in either chamber yet.

An additional area of concern to us is the growth of the payday lending industry. This industry provides small, short term loans to people. In theory, the practice sounds helpful, but in application it is extremely predatory. In some states, the annual interest rates on these loans approach 400 percent. Because they are short-term loans, often two weeks, hence the term “payday” loans, the borrowers are often unable to repay them. Lenders then renew their loans. This practice often traps borrowers in an endless debt trap. We believe our country needs a uniform lending cap to protect vulnerable people from such predatory practices. Congress has already enacted a 36 percent annual interest rate cap on loans to members of the military. We believe that the rest of the population deserves similar protections. We will work this year to have legislation introduced that will rein in the worst of these predatory lending abuses.

We have also become increasingly concerned about our nation’s criminal justice system. The system has become very effective at removing criminals from the population, and we appreciate these efforts. Those who engage in criminal behavior should be punished. However, we believe the system is much more effective at punishment than at rehabilitation. We must not only punish offenders. We must also do all we can to help them break the cycle of criminality in their lives so they can reclaim the rest of their lives once they have paid their debt to society. Currently, too many men and women are repeat offenders. We support efforts to give these men and women a second chance at life after incarceration. The Second Chance Reauthorization Act helps to provide just this kind of support. The bill reauthorizes the original 2008 law, which expired in 2013, and makes some important changes in it. It opens more of the grant process to faith-based groups and it streamlines some of the programs that can be funded. Fortunately, Congress has continued to appropriate money for the existing law, but these changes will make the law more effective.

Human Rights

Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that humans are supposed to look out for each other. In God’s design, we are our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:1-10), and we are supposed to act with neighbor love toward others (Luke 10:25-37). This attitude is in great need today. The ERLC has many concerns about the treatment of people around the globe. We engage at many levels to help alleviate human suffering and governmental overreach into people’s lives.

We highlight here two efforts we will continue to engage this year, one concerning inhumane prison conditions around the world and a second focused on Internet firewall circumvention. First, the Foreign Prison Conditions Improvement Act brings U.S. pressure to bear on foreign governments to institute some basic humanitarian measures to address deplorable prison conditions. It seeks to ensure access to clean drinking water, basic medical care, protection from the elements, and adequate sleeping space, among other things. It also presses for inmates to be given access to family members and legal representation. Neither chamber has voted on the bill.

Second, we will work to gain adequate funding commitments by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) for Internet firewall circumvention technology that will enable people in closed countries, like China and Vietnam, to access information and communicate with others over the Internet without fear of governmental censorship or reprisal. The BBG has already stated this technology is one of its priorities. They just need some guidance from lawmakers on the allocation of their current funding.

Immigration Reform

The Old Testament is filled with God’s call to His people to “love the stranger” in their midst (Leviticus 19:34). Jesus told His disciples that their care for the stranger was a direct reflection of their own spiritual vitality (Matthew 25:31-46). The biblical call to care for the stranger has a direct bearing on our treatment of undocumented immigrants in this nation. While the ERLC has not endorsed any particular immigration reform legislation, we continue to call on lawmakers to support just and compassionate immigration reform that includes undocumented immigrants.

Congress is currently working on several bills to address various aspects of immigration reform. We do not see any likelihood for the introduction of a comprehensive bill by either chamber. The introduction of a number of separate targeted bills is acceptable to us, provided that the end result implements the goals expressed by the Southern Baptist Convention in its resolutions on immigration reform and follows the six principles set forth by the Evangelical Immigration Table:

With more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in our nation, and more joining them every year, our country cannot allow the status quo to continue. It isn’t good for them or our nation. We look forward to finally achieving this historic goal in 2015.


As noted earlier, these are just some of the legislative issues we will engage in 2015. Some bills we will support are still in development. New ones will arise during the year as well. Furthermore, this agenda does not address our efforts to engage myriad other areas of concern at the legislative and policy level, like sex trafficking, pornography, poverty, hunger, homosexuality, and gambling, for example. While the environment remains very toxic politically, we know God has an agenda of His own. We will seek to understand His will as we bring Southern Baptist biblical convictions to bear on the great public policy questions of our day. We ask that every concerned Christian join us in prayer and action in this Kingdom effort to be instruments of God’s will on earth.

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Barrett Duke

Barrett Duke is now the executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention. He is the former vice president for Public Policy and Research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Read More by this Author

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the … Read More

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