By / Mar 8

NASHVILLE (BP) – With Congress poised to pass a minibus package of funding bills on Friday (March 8), the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is celebrating the inclusion of several provisions, while lamenting the exclusion of others.

The bipartisan minibus package contains six of the 12 required appropriations bills which fund the government.

The House passed the minibus package on Wednesday (March 6), and the Senate is expected to vote on the bill ahead of Friday’s government funding deadline. The package then goes to President Biden to sign, thus avoiding an impending government shutdown.

Congress had previously failed to pass any of the 12 necessary appropriations bills since the fiscal year ended on Sept. 30of last year. Instead, Congress passed a series of continuing resolution bills, extending the deadline for funding the government while the House and Senate worked on their versions of the 12 bills.

Allison Cantrell, policy associate for the ERLC, said although many of the entity’s highest policy priorities are still to come in the remaining six bills, the current minibus offers a mixed bag of pros and cons.

By engaging in federal appropriations negotiations, the ERLC seeks to ensure federal taxpayer dollars are not spent facilitating or directly funding morally reprehensible actions, such as abortions and ‘gender transitions.

Allison Cantrell

“In the first minibus being voted on this week, we are glad to see that baseline pro-life provisions were retained but are disappointed that many new provisions that would expand pro-life protections and support a culture of life and human flourishing were ultimately excluded. We continue to encourage legislators to include additional and equally necessary life and religious liberty protections in the second minibus later this month.”

The six government departments funded by the minibus include:

  • Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and related agencies 
  • Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies 
  • Energy and Water Development 
  • Interior, Environment and related agencies 
  • Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and related agencies
  • Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies

ERLC Policy Director Hannah Daniel explained the entity’s main priorities to keep out of appropriations bills are any government funding going to an abortion provider, any funding of gender-transition procedures and policies that could implicate the consciences of medical professionals or taxpayers.

A few pieces of the minibus the ERLC deemed areas of concern include the removal of several provisions that were included in the House’s version of the appropriations bills, but were ultimately not included in the bipartisan minibus. These provisions would have restricted the FDA from allowing the mail-order sale of mifepristone (a drug commonly used for chemical abortions), prohibited the use of federal funding for gender transitions in the Military Construction budget, and prohibited federal agencies from implementing a regulatory rule that would allow expanded access to abortion services for veterans.

A couple included provisions that the ERLC supports are ones that prohibit the use of federal funding for abortion and prohibit the use of federal funding to violate conscience protections.

Daniel said these funding bills represent a simple yet important way the ERLC advocates on behalf of Southern Baptists.

“When we are doing advocacy on a daily basis, whether that’s appropriations or in other contexts and on other issues that we care about, we have a lot of tools in our toolbox that we can use to help lawmakers better understand the perspective of Southern Baptists,” Daniel said.

“We are here to communicate why these things matter to us and why they are important, not just for our communities, but also the broader communities in which we exist. 

“As Southern Baptists, we really care about these issues of life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity, and seeing the flourishing of all of our neighbors (Jeremiah 29:7) – that is even reflected in appropriations.”

As a nation, our spending reflects what we care about. We want to see our spending as a nation – our taxpayer dollars – being used in a way that promotes good, God-honoring things. We can’t just sit on the sidelines. We have to engage in order to see lives defended, to hold onto important religious liberty protections, and to push back against bad policies.

Hannah Daniel

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Mar 6

Congressional appropriations are the mechanism by which we fund our government. You might have heard recently that Congress has narrowly avoided several “government shutdowns.” These shutdowns occur when Congress fails to pass the necessary “appropriations bills,” funding our government and designating how our taxpayer dollars are spent. Funding for the government runs out at the end of each fiscal year on Sept. 30. This year, Congress has failed to pass any of the necessary appropriations bills over five months past the September funding deadline. However, Congress is poised this week to pass the first six of these 12 bills and plans to pass the remaining six bills later this month. 

The appropriations process 

The appropriations process is something that takes almost the whole year. Theoretically, it follows this procedure: 

  • The president submits his proposed budget to Congress in early spring. 
  • From there, the House and the Senate begin drafting each of these 12 appropriations bills that fund the different parts of the government. 
  • Those are then passed through the appropriations committee. 
  • Next, they pass the House floor and go through that same process in the Senate. 
  • Ultimately, they go to the president’s desk, all before Sept. 30 when the fiscal year ends.

However, that is not how it usually works. What tends to happen is that the president submits his request, which is largely ignored. Then, the House and Senate each begin working on different versions of those 12 bills. The bills look different based on who is controlling the House and the Senate. 

It’s a messy process, but it’s important because this is how our taxpayer dollars are being spent. Trillions of dollars are being allocated, so we want to have a say in how that money is being spent and what it’s going toward.

How does the ERLC engage the congressional appropriations process? 

Every year, the ERLC engages in the appropriations process pretty heavily. We do a comprehensive review of all 24 of these bills, both the 12 House bills and 12 Senate bills. We weigh through thousands and thousands of pages of legislative text looking for anything of concern. Specifically, we’re looking for issues where government funding could be going to an abortion provider, to fund gender-transition procedures, or policies that could implicate the consciences of medical professionals or taxpayers.

We also try to find some positive things that we can support. When negotiators are down to the wire and they’re trying to decide what gets into a compromise package, we want them to know these are the priorities of Southern Baptists, and we want them to be able to include those in the final package. After we do our review, we make sure that those concerns and priorities are communicated to people on Capitol Hill, especially those who are involved in those negotiations.

The ERLC’s daily advocacy 

When we are doing advocacy on a daily basis, whether that’s appropriations or in other contexts and on other issues that we care about, we have a lot of tools in our toolbox that we can use to help lawmakers better understand the perspective of Southern Baptists. We are here to communicate why these things matter to us and why they are important, not just for our communities, but also the broader communities in which we exist. 

We want to see all people flourish, and good policy allows people to do that. We are able to convey that through letters that we send to lawmakers. We can also work in coalitions with other partners who are like-minded on our issues and help to bolster our influence through partnering together. In addition, we meet with members of Congress and their staff, helping educate them on these issues and advocating for them to take positive actions or push back on bad policy. Each issue often requires something a little bit different.

As Southern Baptists, we really care about these issues of life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity, and seeing the flourishing of all of our neighbors (Jer. 29:7)—that is even reflected in appropriations. As a nation, our spending reflects what we care about. We want to see our spending as a nation—our taxpayer dollars—being used in a way that promotes good, God-honoring things. We can’t just sit on the sidelines. We have to engage in order to see lives defended, to hold onto important religious liberty protections, and to push back against bad policies.

For more about our advocacy in Washington, D.C., check out this ERLC Podcast episode.

By / Sep 28

With a government shutdown looming, Congress is scrambling to find agreement on how to fund the government before this year’s budget runs out on Sept. 30. If Congress is unable to pass the appropriations bills or a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to temporarily extend its current funding, the government will shut down until an agreement is reached.

Though this tedious and dysfunctional process must be completed each fiscal year, it is one with great importance to Southern Baptists because we care deeply about how our taxpayer dollars are being used. As ERLC President Brent Leatherwood wrote in his letter to Congress on this topic, “As a nation, our values and priorities are most clearly displayed through the allocation of our resources. It is our desire for those resources to be used in a way that promotes life, religious liberty, and the flourishing of all our neighbors.”

In light of those core convictions, the ERLC engages each year with the congressional appropriations process, highlighting both areas of concern and support to lawmakers. As negotiations are taking place, we want to make sure the voices of Southern Baptists will be heard.

How is the government funded?

Each year, Congress must move through the appropriations process in order to fund the government. The process should work like this:

  • The president submits his proposed budget process in the early spring,
  • then appropriators in the U.S.House of Representatives and Senate begin drafting each of the 12 appropriations bills that fund different parts of the government.
  • From there, these bills pass the appropriations committees, pass through both chambers, and then go on to the president’s desk for his signature.

All of this work must be completed by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, or Congress is forced to pass a short-term funding patch known as a CR. 

In reality, the president’s proposed budget is largely ignored, and when the House and Senate begin working on their versions of each of these 12 bills, they look vastly different depending on the party in power. Compromise versions of those bills are often combined into a large omnibus or a few smaller minibus bills that make it easier for Congress to pass the bills rather than voting on them individually. The last time Congress passed all 12 bills individually was 1994.

Why does this appropriations process matter?

As trillions of taxpayer dollars are allocated, it is important that we speak into how that money is spent. Without continued advocacy, this money can go toward things that Southern Baptists find objectionable, such as gender transition procedures and abortion at home and abroad. Many of the protections that prohibit government funding from going toward these things and protect consciences must be included each year as a policy “rider.”

As these bills move through a complicated process, there are significant opportunities for harmful provisions to be added in unnoticed or for important protections to be excluded. Consistent advocacy on these issues is essential to ensure the inclusion of important riders such as the Hyde Amendment.

How is the ERLC advocating?

Every year, the ERLC engages in the appropriations process. Our team does a comprehensive review of all 24 of these bills—the 12 House bills and 12 Senate bills. As we wade through thousands of pages of legislative text, we look for anything of concern. Specifically, we’re looking for issues where government funding could be going to an abortion provider or funding gender transition procedures or policies that could implicate the consciences of medical professionals or taxpayers. 

We also look for positive things that we can support, such as expanded protections for life or funding to promote international religious freedom. 

When negotiators are down to the wire and are trying to decide what gets into a final, compromise package, we want them to know the priorities of Southern Baptists and urge them to include what we care about. After we do our review, we make sure that those concerns and priorities are communicated to negotiators and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

What is the ERLC advocating for?

One thing that we were excited to see in both the Republican-led House proposed bills and the Democratic-led Senate proposed bills was the inclusion of longstanding life and conscience protection riders. These riders, such as the Hyde amendment, provide essential, baseline protections. For the last two years, they have been excluded from the initially proposed House and Senate bills. Though they were ultimately included in both fiscal year 2022 and 2023 appropriations, it is a victory worth celebrating that compromising these protections was not on the negotiating table this year.

However, even with these protections in place, the proposed House and Senate appropriations bills contain several things concerning to Southern Baptists such as increased funding for:

  • abortion providers at home and abroad,
  • “gender specific care” that can go toward abortion-travel,
  • and the United Nations Population Fund.

Additionally, the House State and Foreign Operations bill excludes a longstanding provision known as the Lautenberg Amendment. The Lautenberg Amendment has provided an essential pathway for persecuted religious minorities from former Soviet Union countries, including many Christians, to find safety in the United States.

There are also several provisions in the proposed House bills that the ERLC is urging Congress to include in its final package. These include provisions such as:

  • Prohibiting funding for abortion providers;
  • prohibiting funding for gender transition procedures
  • prohibiting funding for abortion travel;
  • and reinstating important safety precautions for chemical abortion drugs.

Though it remains unlikely that all of these provisions would be included in a compromise package, the ERLC is continuing to advocate for as much progress to be made as possible in protecting life, caring for our neighbors, and upholding conscience rights.

What happens next?

Congress will continue to debate these individual appropriations bills while also considering short-term measures to avert a government shutdown. While a government shutdown looks likely, and it remains unclear how an agreement could be reached to fund the government, the ERLC will continue to advocate on behalf of Southern Baptists and make lawmakers aware of these concerns and priorities.

By / Dec 6

As the U.S. Congress reconvenes after the election, it must work to either complete appropriations work or pass another continuing resolution (CR) by the end of December 16. Congress previously passed a short-term CR in September to fund the government through December 16. 

On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a six-bill minibus, which included Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Energy and Water Development; Financial Services and General Government; Interior, Environment; and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs. Though all bills have been passed out of committee, the House has not yet taken action on Commerce, Justice, and Science; Defense; Homeland Security; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education; Legislative Branch, or State, Foreign Operations.

The Senate has also released but not yet taken up its own version of these bills. If passed, these bills will have to be reconciled with the House versions. 

Southern Baptists affirm the full dignity of every human being and that every life is  worthy of protection, beginning with the unborn. We believe life begins at conception and that abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection. Scripture is clear that every person is made in the image of God and his knowledge of each of us even precedes the creative act of conception (Jer. 1:5; Psalm 139:13). At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.”  

The ERLC is committed to conscience protection policies because they uphold two of our most closely held convictions. First, we work to protect the consciences of our neighbors because we believe religious freedom is an inalienable human right, thankfully secured as the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. Second, protecting healthcare workers from the coercive power of the profit-seeking, on-demand abortion industry is a pro-life responsibility.

The ERLC opposes appropriations riders that deny religious freedom and conscience  protections to millions of Americans. Efforts to codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. Many of the riders discussed below do the same. As the ERLC has long maintained, a government that is able to pave over the conscience is one that has the unlimited ability to steamroll dissent on any issue.

The FY2023 appropriations bills are troubling because they removes several longstanding pro-life riders from the budget. Just as last year, the Hyde Amendment has not been included in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill. The Hyde Amendment prevents Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. At the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers unanimously approved a resolution condemning efforts to strip Hyde from any federal appropriations bills and called upon Congress to uphold all pro-life riders.

Additionally, the appropriations bills removed the Weldon Amendment for only the second time since 2005. The amendment protects the rights of conscience for healthcare professionals and institutions by preventing HHS from denying funding to recipients that refuse to provide, pay for or refer for abortion. The budget would also prohibit any president from reinstituting the Mexico City Policy, reestablished and expanded by President Donald Trump, as the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy.

Though excluded from the initially released bills last year, these pro-life and conscience protection riders were ultimately included in the final FY2022 appropriations package. It is our hope that the same will happen this year.

ERLC’s president, Brent Leatherwood, sent House and Senate leadership a letter urging them to defend protections against federal funds being used for abortion and to ensure that pro-life spending riders are approved in all spending legislation passed in the 117th Congress. He also urged Congress to remove harmful provisions that would exclude people of faith from serving the most vulnerable. 

Each year, the ERLC is actively engaged in the appropriations process, working alongside committee and leadership offices to ensure that important pro-life, religious liberty, and conscience protections are included. The ERLC will continue to advocate for these pro-life provisions and other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life. You can read the full list of our concerns as well as our letter to Senate leadership below.

By / Oct 19

Yesterday, the Senate released the remaining appropriations bills, and Congress must now either complete appropriations work or pass another continuing resolution by the end of December 3. On September 30, Congress passed a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through December 3. 

On July 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a seven-bill minibus, which included Agriculture, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Interior, Environment, Labor, HHS, Education and Transportation, HUD. Additionally, the House passed the Legislative Branch and State, Foreign Operations bills as stand alone bills.

Southern Baptists affirm the full dignity of every human being and that every life is  worthy of protection, beginning with the unborn. We believe life begins at conception and that abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection. Scripture is clear that every person is made in the image of God and his knowledge of each of us even precedes the creative act of conception (Jer. 1:5; Psalm 139:13). At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for  every single human being, without any reservation.”  

The ERLC is committed to conscience protection policies because they uphold two of our most closely held convictions. First, we work to protect the consciences of our neighbors because we believe religious freedom is an inalienable human right, thankfully secured as the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. Second, protecting healthcare workers from the coercive power of the profit-seeking, on-demand abortion industry is a pro-life responsibility.  

The ERLC opposes appropriation riders that deny religious freedom and conscience  protections to millions of Americans. Efforts to codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. Many of the riders discussed below do the same. As the ERLC has long maintained, a government that is able to pave over the conscience is one that has the unlimited ability to steamroll dissent on any issue.

The FY2022 appropriations bills are troubling because they removes several longstanding pro-life riders from the budget. For the first time since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has not been included in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill. The Hyde Amendment prevents Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. At the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers unanimously approved a resolution condemning efforts to strip Hyde from any federal appropriations bill and called upon Congress to uphold all pro-life riders.

Additionally, the appropriations bills removed the Weldon Amendment for the first time since 2005. The amendment protects the rights of conscience for healthcare professionals and institutions by preventing HHS from denying funding to recipients that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer for abortion. The budget would also prohibit any president from reinstituting the Mexico City Policy, reestablished and expanded by President Donald Trump as the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy.

In September, we joined dozens of pro-life coalition partners in sending Congress a letter, uring them to oppose any legislation that fails to maintain Hyde protection. This October, ERLC’s acting president, Brent Leatherwood sent Senate leadership a letter urging them to defend protections against federal funds being used for abortion and to ensure that pro-life spending riders are approved in all spending legislation passed in the 117th Congress. And also urged Congress to remove harmful provisions that would exclude people of faith from serving the most vulnerable. 

Each year, the ERLC is actively engaged in the appropriations process, working alongside committee and leadership offices to ensure that important pro-life, religious liberty, and conscience protections are included. The ERLC will continue to advocate for these pro-life provisions and other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life.