How the ERLC is working to protect religious liberty

June 12, 2019

Religious Liberty is a core principle in the Baptist Faith and Message (Article 17) and of the ERLC’s mission. As such, we continue to advocate for religious liberty and to protect the conscience rights of all, both at home and abroad.  


Every year, the ERLC engages in the legislative process to advance and safeguard the cause of religious liberty. Our Legislative Agenda highlights various bills and policy initiatives that we plan to engage in over the course of the year. Some of the  ERLC’s top agenda initiatives related to religious liberty issues that saw movement on Capitol Hill in 2018 and 2019 included:  

The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act  

This bill would provide protections for adoption and other child welfare agencies to act in accordance with their beliefs about faith, marriage, and family when trying to provide children with loving and forever homes. Due to the ERLC’s work, the bill was successfully added as an amendment to FY 2019 Labor Health & Human Services subcommittee appropriations bill. Unfortunately, it did not ultimately become law, but the ERLC is continuing to work to build on this success to garner support for the future.  

Opposing the Equality Act  

This legislation would redefine the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s use of the word “sex” to also include “sexual orientation and gender identity” and make them federally protected classes. The ERLC opposes this bill as it represents the most alarming threat to religious liberty ever proposed in the United States Congress. Of particular concern is how this bill would require healthcare professionals and foster care and adoption agencies compromise their deeply held religious beliefs, and undo decades of civil rights protections gained for women and girls.  

Administration regulatory efforts  

Support HHS Conscience Protection Rules & Conscience and Religious Freedom Division  

The ERLC supports the new rules from HHS entitled, “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care.” This regulation gives crucial protections to healthcare workers with deeply held convictions from being forced to participate in procedures like abortions lest they lose their jobs. While we will continue to work to end abortion, fighting for conscience protections like these are a necessary aspect of upholding religious liberty.  

 Protect religious freedom for military chaplains and medical professionals  

Our culture’s changing standards of human sexuality make it more difficult for military chaplains and medical professionals to perform their duties in such a way that honors God’s design for gender and sexuality. The ERLC will continue to advocate for the religious freedom and conscience rights of such individuals.  

Supreme Court cases  

This past year saw many victories for religious liberty at the Supreme Court and other courts throughout the federal judiciary. The ERLC files amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in cases involving religious liberty, pro-life, and other issues critical to our Christian engagement in the public square. Here are some of the most recent court cases for which the ERLC filed briefs:  

NIFLA v. Bacerra  

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission  

Whole Woman’s Health v. Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops  

The American Legion v. American Humanist Association (Bladensburg Cross)  

Note: The result of this case is still unknown, but a decision is expected soon.  

International religious freedom  

Religious freedom initiative for Malaysia  

While religious freedom is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Malaysian Constitution, it is in jeopardy as the country considers further expansion of the powers of Syariah courts. Consequently, such expansion threatens Christians and other minority groups from freely expressing their religion of choice. The ERLC has been advocating for Malaysia and was encouraged by a successful religious freedom initiative for Malaysia as evidenced by a number of religious freedom recommendations made by member states in Malaysia’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN in Geneva.  

Advocating for Christian Family in United Arab Emirates  

Franz Zenz was an Austrian citizen who passed away in 2014. He had worked and owned property in the United Arab Emirates. His daughters and wife are being denied their inheritance, in part, because of their Christian faith. They are disputing the claims of a Muslim woman who says (with false documents) that the husband was Muslim and married to her. Property disputes are settled in Sharia court, where Christian testimony is not given as much weight. Russell Moore has denounced the decision of the court to give the estate to the Muslim woman (a known criminal) and called on Pope Francis to also demand justice for this family.  

North Korea International Religious Freedom Initiative  

The ERLC is working with a broad, multifaith coalition of organizations through the United Nations Universal Periodic Review process to urge North Korea to cease all restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and ensure that the right to manifest one’s religion in private or in public is fully protected and realized. The ERLC continues to urge the international community to prioritize the opposition of the egregious religious freedom violations carried out by the DPRK.  

China International Religious Freedom Initiative  

Over recent years, the Chinese government has increasingly cracked down on religious freedom and persecution of religious minorities. The ERLC has grave concerns about the trajectory of China’s approach to Christians and other religious minorities and is committed to working with other nongovernmental organizations to direct both U.S. and international pressure toward alleviating their persecution  

Advocating for freedom of religion in the United Nations  

Blasphemy and apostasy laws are used to punish people who convert religions or speak or act in a way that is deemed offensive to the dominant religion of a particular culture. They are often enforced with the death penalty. Cases such as Asia Bibi in Pakistan demonstrate the unjust nature of such laws. In March 2019, ERLC Executive VP Phillip Bethancourt and VP for Public Policy Travis Wussow travelled to the UN in Geneva to advocate for religious freedom abroad and participate in the release of a UN report on the state of religious freedom worldwide. The report focused on the relationship between freedom of religion and freedom of expression and also criticized blasphemy laws.  

Other Articles and Resources  

Neal Hardin

Neal Hardin grew up in Murrieta, CA before getting his BS in Metallurgical Engineering from the University of Utah in 2012. Following that, he worked as an engineer for 4 years at a steel mill before the Lord called him to pursue a seminary education in 2016. Neal is currently a … 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