By / Apr 24

On Wednesday, April 22, 2015, the U.S. Senate passed an important bill to curb human trafficking and to aid its victims. Here is what you should know about that legislation:

What is the story with the human trafficking bill?

The recent human trafficking bill, officially known as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, was originally introduced in in the Senate on January 2015 by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). The bill had 34 cosponsors in the Senate, 13 Democrats and 21 Republicans (Sen. Barbara Boxer initially signed on as a cosponsor but withdrew her support a day later.) However, after initially supporting the bill, Democrats launched a filibuster because of language in the bill related to abortion.

In response, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a vote on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch until the trafficking bill made it out of the Senate. After weeks of negotiations, a bipartisan agreement was reached and the bill was put up for a vote, passing unopposed (99-0).

Why did the Democrats oppose the bill?

Senate Democrats—including ten of the cosponsors—filibustered the bill to prevent it coming up for a vote after learning of opposition by abortion rights groups, such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood. The abortion lobby opposed the bill because it included the Hyde amendment, an addition routinely attached to annual appropriations bills since 1976 which bans federal funding of abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

According to NPR, Democrats said restrictions on abortions should apply to only taxpayer money, and that the fund created by the trafficking measure was not taxpayer money because it’s collected from fines on people convicted of sex-trafficking crimes. A deal was later reached which would allow the criminal fines to be used for victim services unrelated to health. The money related to the bill used for health services would still be subjected to the Hyde amendment.

As NPR’s Alisa Chang says, “both sides can say they won. Republicans can say no part of the fund pays for abortions. Democrats can say the Hyde Amendment was never expanded to apply to non-taxpayer money.”

What does the trafficking act do?

The bill provides for numerous changes to legislation related to trafficking, including:

• Imposes an additional fine of $5,000 for the crime of trafficking.

• Establishes the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund into which revenues from such penalties shall be deposited and used in from 2016-2020 to award grants to combat trafficking, enhance trafficking victims’ programming, and provide services for victims of child pornography.

• Prohibits the use of amounts from the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund for any abortion or for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion, except where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or the woman’s life is in danger unless an abortion is performed.

• Expands the definition of “child abuse” under the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990 to include human trafficking and the production of child pornography and authorizes grants to develop and implement specialized programs to identify and provide direct services to victims of child pornography.

• Provides for the forfeiture of real or personal property that was involved in the commission of human trafficking crimes.

• Expands Department of Justice authority to intercept wire, oral, or electronic communications to include investigations of offenses relating to peonage, involuntary servitude, forced labor, and trafficking.

• Makes traffickers and buyers equally culpable for sex trafficking offenses.

• Classifies crimes involving peonage, slavery, and trafficking in persons as crimes of violence under the federal criminal code.

What is human trafficking?

“Trafficking in persons,” or “human trafficking,” describes the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Trafficking in persons is estimated to be one of the top-grossing criminal industries in the world (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking), with traffickers profiting an estimated $32 billion every year.

Nearly half of all incidents investigated by U.S. law enforcement agencies between January 1, 2008, and June 30, 2010, involved allegations of adult prostitution (48 percent). Forty percent involved prostitution of a child or child sexual exploitation. Fourteen percent of cases contained allegations of labor trafficking.


What is the next step for the trafficking bill?

The bill will now need to be worked out with the House, which passed another version of the legislation that did not include such features as the victims’ fund. Once those differences are resolved, the legislation will be sent to President Obama to be signed into law.

By / Mar 3

WASHINGTON (BP)—A new effort to help end human trafficking and slavery worldwide has quickly gained momentum in Congress.

The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act received approval from a Senate committee Feb. 26, only two days after it was introduced by Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn. The Foreign Relations Committee, which Corker chairs, forwarded the bill with a unanimous vote.

The legislation, S. 553, would establish a centralized effort to thwart trafficking and slavery at a time when an estimated 27 million people are enslaved globally. It would create a Washington, D.C., non-profit foundation designed to use federal, foreign and private sector funds to reduce slavery by a measurable 50 percent.

Corker believes the bill “is going to have a transformative effect on us dealing with modern slavery,” he said in a CNN interview after the committee vote. “We have outstanding organizations that are using best practices, and yet we haven't had a central effort to deal with this appropriately.

“People are taking advantage of young people, old people, mothers, daughters, sons and fathers,” Corker said. “And we can do something about it, and we're getting ready to, and I'm glad that today we're celebrating the beginning of that effort.”

Southern Baptists applauded the proposal.

“Human slavery and trafficking are wicked to the core, assaulting the dignity of human beings created in the image of God,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“By taking on this issue, Sen Corker and those who stand with him are in the spirit of the great Christian leader and anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce,” Moore said in a written statement for Baptist Press. “I pray that we will work together to end this scourge of slavery and trafficking in our world.”

William Wilberforce led the ultimately successful legislative campaigns against the slave trade and slavery as a member of the British Parliament from 1780 to 1825.

Raleigh Sadler, a pastor and trafficking awareness advocate in New York City, described the measure’s strength as “its emphasis on collaboration.”

“Through the funding of governmental agencies and non-profit organizations working in the areas of the world most affected, this foundation will seek to resource those who are already at work,” Sadler told BP in written comments.

International Justice Mission (IJM), the world’s largest anti-slavery organization, commended the legislation and called for swift passage.

The bill and the accompanying funds “set a new bar for U.S. leadership to combat slavery,” said Holly Burkhalter, IJM’s vice president of government relations, in a written release.

“[W]e have not been engaging in a fair fight,” since the U.S. government has been spending “a minute fraction” of its foreign aid on anti-trafficking efforts while the traffickers have been making $150 billion in profits a year, Burkhalter said. “That is about to change.”

The legislation would require the End Modern Slavery Initiative Foundation to fund programs that contribute to the rescuing and recovery of slavery victims, the prevention of slavery. and the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators. It also would establish measurable goals and cut slavery by half in seven years among “targeted populations.” Programs that fail to meet their goals will be suspended or ended.

The foundation’s goal is to raise $1.5 billion, which is intended to be broken down this way: $251 million from the federal government in eight years; $500 million from other governments; and $750 million in private funds.

The U.S. State Department categorizes slavery – which exists in the United States and more than 160 other countries – as sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor or child soldiers.

The new proposal is important to the local church, Sadler told BP.

“First, this bill aims to bring justice to the oppressed by holding the powers that be accountable for reducing human trafficking around the world,” he said, adding it “puts feet” to the State Department’s annual report “by resourcing those at work in countries that are meeting the minimal standards” of the report.

“Secondly, we can celebrate that this is a concrete step towards caring for the ‘widow, the orphan and the sojourner,’ who are vulnerable to human trafficking, Sadler said. “For these reasons, I challenge the church to pray for the implementation of this legislation.”

Sadler, one of the teaching pastors of Gallery Church in New York City, is director of justice ministries for the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. He trains churches and other faith communities on combating trafficking. He also leads Let My People Go, an initiative to help leaders recognize and address the issue of exploitation in their communities.

In endorsing the new proposal, IJM’s Burkhalter urged Congress not to cut back on anti-slavery and development programs already being conducted by the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“We don’t want to see the [federal government] robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said.

The ERLC has been a leading advocate for policies to combat human trafficking since the move to address the domestic and international problem resulted in the first anti-trafficking law in 2000.

By / Jul 17

A Democratically-led effort to subvert the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood case was voted down 56-43 in the Senate yesterday. Sponsored by Senator Murray, the Protect Women’s Health from Corporation Interference Act aimed to “ensure that employers that provide health benefits to their employees cannot deny any specific health benefits, including contraception coverage, to any of their employees or the covered dependents of such employees or the covered dependents of such employees entitled by Federal law to receive such coverage.”

The bill’s failure in the Senate is both encouraging and discouraging. It is encouraging because another attack on religious liberty has been thwarted, however narrowly. Despite these efforts, another branch of our government has now affirmed the right of the Green family and other business owners to conduct their business in a way that corresponds with their deeply held moral convictions. Christians can find hope in that.

It is discouraging because the bill was narrowly voted down and illustrated huge party divides. In need of 60 votes to be passed, the bill was only four votes away from overturning the Supreme Court’s ruling. Shouldn’t religious freedom, as it has been advanced in our country for over 400 years, be an easy “yes?” Or, in this case, it should have been an easy “no.”

Further, religious liberty ought to be a bipartisan issue. It is, perhaps, the one thing all should be able to come together and agree on. It is not the hope here that only the Green family would be granted religious freedom (and that it not be taken away after the fact). It is the hope that all would have the opportunity to live out what they believe to be true within the guidelines laid out in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the bill the Hobby Lobby case ruling was based upon.

Rather than see this as an advance for religious freedom, enemies of religious freedom have framed it as a “War on Women”—a shallow trope bandied about by spokesmen on the Left to paint religious liberty as an enemy of women’s rights. Affirming Hobby Lobby’s right not to provide only four of the 20 federally-approved contraceptive mechanisms does not deny women contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby gladly provides health care including 16 of the 20 federally-approved contraceptives. Some may also be forgetting that Hobby Lobby not paying for a contraceptive does not prevent a woman (or the government) from devising alternate pathways of access, as the Supreme Court intimated.

No, bipartisan approval of religious liberty is not what happened here. Only one Democrat voted against the bill, Senator Reid from Nevada—and this was for procedural reasons, not because he’s on the side of Hobby Lobby. Conversely, only two Republicans voted in favor of the bill, Senators Kirk and Murkowski from Illinois and Arkansas respectively. Such a narrow victory for religious liberty will not end the dispute as long as the Left sees sexual liberty as its reigning ideology. Unfortunately, this was a small battle won in the midst of a much larger war. In the shadow of another loss, it is likely it will not be long before opponents of America’s First Freedom make their next move.

By / Jul 10

Responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood case, Democrats in the Senate and in the House of Representatives have announced plans to circumvent the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The bill's sponsor is Senator Patty Murray. In the ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed the religious liberty of the Green and Hahn families by deciding that closely held corporations could not be forced to provide health care coverage that includes access to potentially abortion-inducing drugs, drugs that violate these families’ deeply held moral convictions. In an important, but often ignored fact, the Green family gladly provides health care to their employees that includes 16 of the 20 federally-approved contraceptive mechanisms.

The ruling was based on RFRA, a statute passed in 1993 as a countermeasure to a Supreme Court ruling in 1990 that significantly weakened the First Amendment’s preservation of religious liberty. The law received bipartisan approval in an almost unanimous vote in the House and the Senate. It was sponsored by Ted Kennedy and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

The President, Ted Kennedy, and Congress all recognized the value in preserving an inalienable right our Founding Fathers set out to protect when they envisioned our country. The law defends the religious freedom of all Americans, and is a critical safeguard for “minority” faiths who, prior to RFRA, were required to appeal for statutory exemptions whenever Congress considered a new law.

RFRA is also a means of accountability for governmental officials who must defend proposed restrictions of religious liberty. Rather than automatically grant any complaint that may be brought forth by citizens, RFRA provides a process for courts to weigh religious liberty with governmental interests.

Once in favor of the law, Democrats have pounced on RFRA, denouncing it as a wedge to enable discrimination against women and corporate empowerment. Their proposition is a new bill: Protect Women’s Health from Corporation Interference Act. The purpose of the bill is to “ensure that employers that provide health benefits to their employees cannot deny any specific health benefits, including contraception coverage, to any of their employees or the covered dependents of such employees or the covered dependents of such employees entitled by Federal law to receive such coverage.”

Senator Murray accuses Hobby Lobby of forcing their religious beliefs on women and of interfering with their employees’ healthcare decisions. If passed by Congress, such a bill would overturn the Hobby Lobby ruling, forcing for-profit businesses and their owners to directly contradict what they believe to be right. Their aim is to affirm the mandated coverage of contraception in the Affordable Care Act.

All should be careful to remember: religious freedom grants freedom to everyone, even if the convictions of some disagree with the convictions of others. Religious liberty is at the core of what it means to be American. Weakening RFRA by amending, nullifying, or changing what has carefully been set in place jeopardizes what our country has advanced for over 400 years.

Reacting to the announcement, Dr. Russell Moore stressed the importance of RFRA and lamented efforts underway to alter its strength and protections. “RFRA was passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both houses. Now, some would jeopardize religious freedom in order to fight their culture war. Religious liberty is too important to everyone in this country to see it end up a dead trophy on the wall on sexual revolutionaries.”

Despite their hardened determination, Democratic success is not hopeful in seeing this legislation passed. While the Protect Women’s Health from Corporation Interference Act may be passed in the Senate, it is doubtful the Republican-controlled House will approve the companion bill being drafted by House Democrats. The stunning reality presented in this effort is the extent democratic leaders are willing to go in order to undermine religious liberty.