Public policy advocacy is one of the primary ways that the ERLC fulfills its ministry in the public square. We recently released our 2024 Public Policy Agenda, which outlines more than three dozen policy issues that will shape our work in Washington, D.C., this year.
The first session of the 118th Congress proved to be wildly unproductive and crippled by intraparty fighting, culminating in the historic ouster of a speaker of the House. Congress left 2023 without funding the government and with little progress made on dozens of priorities. It is in the midst of this dysfunction and division that we must find a way to press forward on priorities relevant to the mission of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission:
- protecting life,
- safeguarding religious liberty,
- bolstering marriage and families,
- and upholding human dignity.
Below is an overview of our policy priorities in these areas. You can learn more about each of these items in the agenda itself.
As Southern Baptists, we believe that every person is made in the image of God, and thus, is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, level of ability, or stage of development. Because of that, the ERLC will always advocate for life to be protected. Following the Dobbs decision in 2022, we’ve seen both monumental gains for life in many states and new challenges emerge. We must persuade our lawmakers that the federal government still has an important role to play in protecting life and combatting this evil in all forms. Here are some aspects of our federal pro-life legislative priorities:
- Protect Pro-life Riders in the Congressional Appropriations Process: Longstanding policy riders such as the Hyde Amendment are essential aspects of preventing taxpayer funding for abortion
- Ending the Proliferation of Chemical Abortions: Chemical abortions make up a majority of all abortions and not only take the life of a preborn child, but also pose significant risks to women.
- Respond to the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA decision: This summer, the Supreme Court will decide whether significant restrictions on the chemical abortion drug, mifepristone, must be reinstated.
- Oppose the Women’s Health Protection Act: This act would allow for abortion on demand nationwide, strip away conscience protections, and allow for taxpayer funding for abortion.
- Support the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act: This bill would codify the protections found in the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life funding riders.
- Support the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act: This bill provides basic protections for precious children who survive an abortion attempt.
- Support Federal Abortion Restrictions: Though the Dobbs decision gave power back to the states on the issue of abortion, it did not absolve Congress of its responsibility to protect life in the womb.
- Oppose “Abortion Tourism”: Since the Dobbs decision, the Biden administration has worked to promote and mandate the right for women to travel to receive an abortion in another state.
- Expand Hyde Protections to Prohibit Taxpayer-Funded Abortion Travel: Many of the aforementioned actions have circumvented Hyde-Amendment protections to require taxpayer funding for such abortion-related travel.
- Oppose the Biden Administration’s Pro-Abortion Regulatory Agenda: In the absence of congressional action, the Biden administration has used its regulatory powers to promote and expand access to abortion in all contexts.
- Support the Work of Pregnancy Resource Centers: Pregnancy resource centers are on the front line of the pro-life movement and have faced increasing attacks regarding their funding and perceived legitimacy.
- Strengthen International Pro-Life Work: Organizations like the United Nations and other international bodies continue to press for an “international right to abortion” and seek to use international aid funding to promote abortion.
- Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide and all Euthanasia Efforts: Across the United States, there is an effort to expand the availability of physician-assisted suicide under the guise of “compassionate healthcare.”
A bedrock of Baptist belief is that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” The Baptist Faith & Message continues in stating that “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” Our Baptist ancestors in the U.S. were instrumental in the crafting and adoption of the First Amendment to our Constitution, which guarantees free exercise of religion for all and forbids the establishment of a state-driven religion. The ERLC will continue this legacy in our moral education and in our advocacy. We expect some of the following to be issues of particular concern in 2024:
- Oppose The Equality Act: This act would codify sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as protected classes in federal civil rights law and is the greatest threat to religious liberty ever considered in the U.S. Congress.
- Oppose attacks on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Recent legislation from both parties has explicitly removed vital religious liberty protections guaranteed by law in RFRA.
- Support the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act: This bill would prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their beliefs and ultimately protect children in the foster system and children waiting for adoption by ensuring that a wide range of child welfare providers are available to serve them.
- Support the Conscience Protection Act: This bill provides conscience protections for healthcare workers with religious and moral convictions that prohibit them from participating in activities that go against their pro-life beliefs.
- Oppose the Biden Administration’s Regulatory Actions: The Biden administration has extensively used its regulatory powers to curtail religious liberty and conscience protections, especially as they intersect with sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
- Support the Safeguarding Charity Act: This bill would protect the religious liberty of faith-based organizations by clearly stating that simply holding tax-exempt status does not equate to receiving federal financial assistance.
- Support a Two-year Universal Charitable Deduction to Encourage Giving to Charities: Under the federal tax code, people can only claim a deduction for charitable contributions if they itemize their deductions, but a universal charitable deduction would incentivize such giving from all taxpayers.
- Combat Global Antisemitism: Following the horrific attack on Israel on Oct. 7, there has been a significant rise in antisemitism both domestically and abroad, with alarming tolerance for antisemitic rhetoric and actions on college campuses across the country and at many of our global institutions, such as the United Nations
- Support Protections for the Uyghur People in China: Though national attention has shifted elsewhere, the Uyghur people continue to face a genocide, and more must be done to prioritize this issue in U.S. foreign policy with China.
- Advocate for the Elimination of Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws: Dozens of countries still enforce these laws—often through the death penalty—prohibiting one from converting to another religion or speaking or acting in any way that is deemed offensive to the god of their particular religion.
- Support the Designation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern: Despite intense persecution of Christians, the U.S. State Department has ignored the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for religious freedom for three consecutive years.
Marriage & Family
We believe that families are the foundational institution of our society. However, shifting views in our culture regarding marriage, gender, sexuality, and family have left our society in disarray. We will continue to advocate for policies that promote availability and accessibility in adoption and foster care; provide wrap-around care for vulnerable mothers and families; and promote the rights and responsibilities of parents in raising their children and pushing back on harmful gender ideology. Some aspects of our advocacy for marriage and family include:
- Support Adoption and Foster Care Policies: In addition to pushing back on the alarming religious liberty trends discussed above in the adoption and foster care systems, we are advocating for policies that would support and strengthen adoption, making it more affordable and accessible
- Support the Adoptee Citizenship Act: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the U.S. who had at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen, but it only applied to adoptees under the age of 18 when the bill was enacted, leaving an entire population of adopted children without full U.S. citizenship. This bill closes that loophole.
- Ensure Intercountry Adoption Remains a Viable Option: Amidst significant declines in international adoptions, the ERLC is working with like-minded partners and the U.S. Department of State to ensure that intercountry adoption remains a viable option for families and vulnerable children around the world.
- Support Pro-Family Policy in a Post-Roe World: The ERLC will advocate for policies that remedy marriage penalties, empower abortion-vulnerable women to choose life, and provide baseline levels of support for new parents.
- Oppose Harmful “Gender-Transition” Surgeries and Procedures: Going against both God’s good design and sound medical practice, “gender-transition” procedures are preying on vulnerable minors and should be outlawed.
- Oppose Taxpayer Funding for “Gender-Transition” Surgeries and Procedures: It is unconscionable that taxpayer dollars continue to be used to fund “gender-transition” surgeries and procedures that harm those experiencing gender dysphoria and that millions of Americans find objectionable.
- Support Parental Rights: Recent years have seen increased challenges to the fundamental rights and responsibilities of parents in areas of education, online access, and matters of gender and sexuality, and the ERLC will continue to support the rights of parents in both legislation and the courts.
- Support Protections for Children Online: New data has demonstrated the detrimental effects on mental health, learning, and self-image that have come as a result from unhindered access for minors without the knowledge and consent of parents. More must be done to prevent children from accessing harmful content, such as pornography, and to empower parents in overseeing the online activity of their children.
- Oppose Marijuana Expansion: The ERLC will continue to oppose various efforts to expand the availability and legality of marijuana in our communities, understanding the devastating impacts it has on many families.
We believe that every person is made in the image of God and is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, race, nationality, level of ability, or stage of development. The Bible also calls us to seek justice and righteousness, especially for those who are vulnerable. In our advocacy for fair and impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the unjustly oppressed and marginalized, we bear witness to a God who is ultimately the just Judge and to a gospel that saves all who believe without partiality. These realities spur on our commitment to the following priorities for this year:
- Support a Permanent Solution for Dreamers: With litigation on its way to the Supreme Court that will likely end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, these young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents remain in an unstable situation without action from Congress.
- Rebuild the Refugee Resettlement Program: Though progress has been made in rebuilding infrastructure, we will continue to advocate for fully restoring the refugee resettlement program and America’s legacy as a beacon of hope to those fleeing persecution.
- Support the Afghan Adjustment Act: This bill provides a path to permanent legal status after additional vetting for Afghans who were brought to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan and who remain in limbo.
- Support Border Security Enhancements and Asylum Reforms: At the 2023 annual meeting, Southern Baptists called on lawmakers to “provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers,” “maintain robust avenues for valid asylum claimants seeking refuge,” and “prioritize measures that secure our borders and to provide adequate resources to border patrol and those working in our immigration system.”
- Support Further Criminal Justice Reform: The ERLC will continue to advocate for reforms that focus on fairness, safety, rehabilitation, and recognize the dignity of those in prison, including provisions requiring that only biological females may be housed together.
- Combat the Epidemic of Mass Shootings and Gun Violence: In 2018, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention gave support for “preventative measures that would reduce gun violence and mass shootings while operating in accordance with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.” In 2022, messengers urged lawmakers “to take concrete steps, towards solutions that uphold the dignity and value of every human life, especially the most vulnerable among us, and to minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society.”
- Support Payday Lending Regulations: Short-term payday loans often come with deceptive and predatory annual interest rates of over 400%, trapping the poor in a vicious cycle of debt and despair.
- Oppose Efforts to Expand Gambling: Even as millions are trapped in the addictive and destructive cycle of gambling, efforts are underway at both the state and federal levels to expand gambling, particularly through sports betting.
- Advocate for Anti-Human Trafficking Laws: The ERLC will continue to advocate for anti-human trafficking legislation in Congress—particularly legislation aimed at supporting trafficking victims and increasing the responsibility of companies to remove this explicit content from their platforms.
- Support Efforts to Shape Artificial Intelligence and Technology that Emphasize Human Dignity: In 2023, Southern Baptists called on lawmakers to “proactively engage and shape these emerging technologies rather than simply respond to the challenges of AI and other emerging technologies after they have already affected our churches and communities.” The ERLC will continue to assist lawmakers in understanding these realities and advocate for policies in line with this call of human dignity and the common good.