Our team in Washington, D.C., produces a legislative agenda annually to mark the work we aim to carry out in the year ahead. This list of desired government action is aspirational for the bills we hope become laws and at times those which we oppose, but also a prudent account for the season in which God has placed us to work. The ERLC will work in 2020 to advance core areas of our agenda that reflect our deepest convictions, such as pro-life and religious liberty legislation, while also targeting bills with broad, bipartisan support in order to make progress on our goals in a time of divided government.
Our work also finds us engaging with the administration on regulatory actions as well as advocating before the Supreme Court on foundational cases. We are also extending our capacity this year outside the gridlock of Washington, D.C., both internationally to bear witness before the United Nations and more locally as state governments like Tennessee wield increasingly important leadership on the issues of public debate.
As the Southern Baptist Convention’s outpost in Washington, D.C., the ERLC advocates for public policy consistent with the priorities of the convention. We share with government leaders and policymakers when introducing ourselves that the SBC is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15 million people in over 46,000 churches nationwide. Obviously, these numbers are interesting to those whose work requires the consideration of constituencies and eligible voters. But to us, the numbers are an introductory fact for which we are grateful, not the fuel by which we find the power to speak.
When the ERLC speaks, we speak as a chorus redeemed and reborn by the gospel and with consciences formed by the Word that became flesh. We speak as a people whose citizenship is secured in a greater Kingdom, but who, for a time and a purpose, are also American citizens. We seek the common good of our neighbors in ways that ultimately reflect the deeper realities of Christ’s eternal Kingdom.
The ERLC’s legislative agenda is organized by the five areas of our public policy portfolio and then tied together with a preamble and conclusion written by Russell Moore and Travis Wussow, ERLC’s vice president of public policy and general counsel.
Here are a few examples of specific policies we’re advocating for this year.
Sanctity of Human Life
An average of 2,400 abortions were performed each day in 2017 in the United States. While this rate is thankfully at its lowest since abortion was legalized in 1973, the number remains excruciatingly high. The ERLC will continue our fight on behalf of the most vulnerable by supporting bills like the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act which would prohibit abortions at or beyond 20 weeks’ gestation when we know the child in utero feels pain.
We will also search for opportunities to defund Planned Parenthood of taxpayer dollars, as they performed more abortions from October 2017 to October 2018 than in any year prior and recieved more federal taxpayer dollars than ever before, making up more than a third of their operating revenue. While the increase of pro-life rhetoric and executive regulations from government officials in Washington, D.C., is important, this devastating data of the abortion industry’s success at the expense of federal money must not be overlooked.
The Bible teaches that governments and rulers have authority because it is granted by God. But that authority is always limited because God alone is Lord of the conscience. It is from this recognition that the ERLC defends the free exercise of fundamental conscience freedoms by supporting policies like the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act. This law would prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their religious beliefs. Thus, it would protect children in need as foster systems are overcrowded and under significant strain.
Unfortunately, religious freedom is often misunderstood whether in policies affecting child-welfare organizations or even with issues in the healthcare profession. This requires the ERLC to make the case for why this God-given freedom is a cornerstone of all our other constitutional freedoms. For example, the ERLC supports the work of the Department of Health and Human Services Conscience and Religious Freedom Division which is needed because healthcare workers should never be forced to participate in abortions and other medical procedures which conflict with their religiously informed conscience. We will continue to advocate for a public square that protects and upholds the dignity of all people and the rights of all to live and act according to their deeply-held convictions.
Marriage and Family
Marriage is a gift from God that is both the basic social structure and a mysterious illustration of the relationship between Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5). The family that grows from marriage is an essential institution for human flourishing, and we will uphold the integrity of God’s design by supporting policies like the Adoptee Citizenship Act. When the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was enacted, which simplified the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally, it unfortunately left an entire population of adoptees without citizenship. This bill closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these children, already adopted by U.S. citizens, yet left out of the previous law.
The ERLC will also continue to engage with Congressional leadership and the HHS and other executive branch leaders in responding to the opioid crisis by caring for affected families.
We see unfolding in the narrative of Scripture that God is unequivocally just in all his ways. As Christians, we bring glory to God and shine light on the gospel when we pursue justice for the marginalized. The ERLC will seek justice in 2020 through advocating for reforms related to payday lending and strengthening laws that deal with human trafficking.
For example, the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act would extend interest rate cap protections rightly recognized for members of the military to all Americans. Other examples of our justice work include the push for a whole-of-government approach to combatting human trafficking as we did in 2018 with the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act.
The ERLC’s work overseas is focused on our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, other religious minorities, widows, and orphans. We will stand up for those whom oppressive regimes toss aside as we continue our China International Religious Freedom Initiative. The Chinese people face daily threats and state-authorized terror in an attempt to stifle their religious beliefs in public and private spaces. The ERLC maintains its grave concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to Christians and other religious minorities and will work with other nongovernmental organizations to direct both U.S. and international pressure toward alleviating their persecution.
Our team has also taken note of the growing international push for abortion legalization throughout the developing world. The ERLC will increase its efforts to resist the entrenched international abortion lobby at the UN as we work with countries seeking to protect life within their borders.
You can find our 2020 Legislative Agenda here.