By / Jun 27

Last week, the Equality Act was once again introduced into the House of Representatives and the Senate for consideration. This legislation intends to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. Last Congress, the Equality Act passed in the House, but the bill died in the Senate. 

The ERLC affirms the full dignity of every human being. 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.” But the Equality Act does not advance the cause of human dignity. 

If passed, the Equality Act would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs about human dignity and marriage and would undermine decades of civil rights protections for women and girls. The alarmingly detrimental consequences of the bill pose a significant threat to the deeply held religious beliefs of millions of Americans who honor God’s design for sexuality.

What does this bill mean for religious liberty?

This bill would substantially undermine religious liberty protections in the United States. America has long been a place where people with different views and beliefs have lived at peace alongside each other. Though America has not perfectly lived up to this ideal of a shared nation, it was central to our founding as persecuted religious minorities sought safe harbor in this land. Though cleverly named, the Equality Act is out of step with that American ideal. Equality cannot be achieved while eliminating other basic, fundamental freedoms. Of particular note, the bill would essentially gut the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bill which passed with broad bipartisan support and was signed by President Clinton.

By undermining RFRA, the Equality Act would force faith-based child welfare organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down by the state. The state-forced closures of such agencies is especially detrimental at a time when multiple crises—including the post-pandemic effects and the ongoing opioid epidemic—have led to increases in the number of children in need of services.

What does the bill mean for women and girls?

Most strikingly, the Equality Act undermines decades of hard fought civil rights protections for women and girls. Single gender spaces, such as locker rooms or shelters, would no longer be protected by law. This departure from a legal understanding of gender as male and female makes women and girls vulnerable to biological males being in their private spaces. For example, shelters for those women and girls escaping domestic abuse or homelessness would be forced to house biological men who identify as female. This legislation disregards the privacy and safety concerns women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with the biological opposite sex.

Another example of the harm this legislation poses to women and girls is in athletics and academics. Since 1972, Title IX has advanced women’s sports and scholarship in remarkable ways. If enacted, the Equality Act would threaten female competition as both areas would then be open to biological males as well.

Are there pro-life concerns in the Equality Act?

Yes. The Equality Act would be the most pro-abortion bill ever passed by Congress. It would redefine the term “sex” to also include “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” This language would roll back federal law that protects the consciences of pro-life nurses and physicians who object to participating in abortions because of their deeply held religious or moral beliefs. These conscience protections carry decades of bipartisan consensus—a consensus that no person should be compelled to participate in an act they believe to be gravely immoral. The Equality Act would also jeopardize the longstanding Hyde Amendment that protects federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. There is nothing equalizing about forcing Americans to fund abortion through taxpayer dollars.

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC has worked tirelessly to defeat this bill. We have partnered with a broad coalition of more than 85 faith-based nonprofits, religious entities, and institutions of higher education to highlight the dangers of the Equality Act. We have raised these concerns with members of Congress and the administration through coalition letters and countless meetings with members, administration officials, and their staff. We have also engaged in public advocacy against the bill by producing a suite of resources to inform Christians and the broader public about the pernicious threat of the so-called “Equality” Act.

What’s next?

In the prior Democrat-led House, the Equality Act passed 224-206, with three Republicans joining all 221 Democrats. In the 118th Congress, Republicans narrowly hold the majority seats, but the bill is unlikely to make it to the floor for a vote. Two of the three Republicans who voted in favor of the bill are no longer in Congress, which makes it even more difficult for Democrats to force a vote on the bill. Another obstacle is Speaker McCarthy’s commitment to unifying the Republican majority’s voice in the House to present a strong front before the American people. 

While it is unlikely the bill will be passed in this Congress, its continued appearance presents a larger, on-going threat to human dignity and religious liberty. The ERLC will continue to highlight how the Equality Act erodes fundamental freedoms and undermines the ability of Americans of diverse beliefs to work together for the common good.

By / Apr 1

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law, making lynching a federal hate crime. “Racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem,” said Biden. “Hate never goes away, it only hides under the rocks. If it gets a little bit of oxygen, it comes roaring back out, screaming. What stops it? All of us.”

The new law ends a 122-year effort to make lynching a federal crime. The first attempt occurred in 1900 when antilynching legislation was introduced by Rep. George Henry White of North Carolina, the only African American in Congress at the time. That bill failed, as did the nearly 200 an­tilynch­ing bills introduced in Congress during the first half of the 20th century. Between 1890 and 1952, seven presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching. And between 1920 and 1940, the House of Representatives passed three strong antilynching measures, though none passed the Senate. 

The enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was the closest Congress ever came in the post-Reconstruction era to enacting antilynching legislation until 2020. In that year, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act was passed by the House by a vote of 410 to 4. But it was held up in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul, who wanted an amendment that would apply a “serious bodily injury standard” for a crime to be considered as lynching.

Here is what you should know about lynching and the new antilynching law. 

What is lynching?

Lynching is a form of violence in which a mob kills or attempts to kill a person suspected of a crime, under the pretext of administering justice without trial. The term has become a synonym for execution by hanging, but lynching can take many forms and often includes inflicting torture and corporal mutilation. The current legal definition of lynching ​​ includes “serious bodily harm.” 

Lynching is a form of terrorist activity since it is intended to affect not just the victim but to spread fear to a particular group of people. “Lynching has typically sent a message to an entire community that ‘you’re not safe here’ or ‘you could be next.’ Lynching has typically been motivated by racial animus and harms an entire community,” said Justin Hansford, a law professor at Howard University.

How common is lynching?

From the end of the Civil War to 1968, 15 U.S. states had Jim Crow laws, legislation that legalized racial segregation. These laws provided legal cover for acts of violence against Black Americans. 

During this period (from 1882-1968), 4,743 recorded lynchings occurred in the United States. Almost three-fourths of the victims were Black (a total 3,446 victims), while just over 1-in-4 were white (1,297 victims). More than three-fourths of all lynchings (79%) occurred in the South. Across the South, someone was hanged or burned alive every four days from 1889 to 1929. Mississippi had the highest number with 581, followed by Georgia with 531, and Texas with 493. 

Five states had no lynchings during this period (Alaska, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), while seven states (Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin) had no recorded lynchings of those who were Black. In 16 states, a greater number of white people than Black people were lynched (California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming). Most lynchings outside the South were of those who were white, and usually for such crimes as murder or theft of livestock.

The last recorded lynching in the United States occurred in 1981. But since 2000, there have been at least eight suspected lynchings of Black men and teenagers in Mississippi, according to court records and police reports.

 What is a hate crime?

According to the Justice Department, when used in a hate crime law, the word “hate” does not mean rage, anger, or general dislike. In this context “hate” means bias against people or groups with specific characteristics that are defined by the law.

At the federal level, hate crime laws include crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. The “crime” in hate crime is often a violent crime, such as assault, murder, arson, vandalism, or threats to commit such crimes. It may also cover conspiring or asking another person to commit such crimes, even if the crime was never carried out.

What changes does the new law make?

The new law amends 18 U.S. Code § 249, the hate crime acts, to include:

(5) LYNCHING.—Whoever conspires to commit any offense under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) shall, if death or serious bodily injury (as defined in section 2246 of this title) results from the offense, be imprisoned for not more than 30 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both.

(6) OTHER CONSPIRACIES.—Whoever conspires to commit any offense under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) shall, if death or serious bodily injury (as defined in section 2246 of this title) results from the offense, or if the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, be imprisoned for not more than 30 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both.

Who was Emmitt Till?

Born in 1941, Emmett Till grew up in a middle-class black neighborhood in Chicago. In August 1955, at the age of 14, he traveled to Mississippi to spend time with his cousins. Three days after arriving in Money, Mississippi, Till and a group of teenagers entered Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. Till purchased bubble gum and, in later accounts, was accused of either whistling at, flirting with, or touching the hand of Carolyn Bryant, a white female whose husband, Roy Bryant, owned the store.

Four days after the alleged incident at the store, Till was kidnapped from his uncle’s home by Bryant and Bryant’s half-brother, J.W. Milam. The two men brutally beat the teenager, shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan, and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River. When Till’s body was discovered three days later, his face was so mutilated he could only be positively identified by the ring on his finger — a signet ring engraved with his late father’s initials that his mother had given him a day before he left Chicago.

The teen’s body was sent back to Chicago, and his mother opted for an open casket to show the world how her son was brutally tortured. Tens of thousands of people came during the five days Till’s body was on display at his church. Two black publications, Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender, published graphic images of the body. The reaction to the murder helped spark the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks is reported to have said she was thinking about Till when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

By / Feb 10

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) affirms the full dignity of every human being. 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 SBC’s commitment to love of neighbor is grounded in the truth that “God created man in His own image; He created Him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” (Gen. 1:26–27) This is true regardless of what any person believes about God, about humanity, and about our sexuality.

The ERLC believes Fairness For All (FFA) does not strike an effective, durable, and politically feasible balance of public policy regarding God-given conscience rights and the demands of the Sexual Revolution. However, the ERLC does not doubt the motivations or intentions of the supporters of Fairness For All, many of whom are friends and allies on a range of other issues. While the stated intention of the legislation is to protect both those who identify as LGBT and people of faith, we believe the protections for people of faith are insufficient and that the legislation will use the federal government to impose a new orthodoxy on matters of sexuality and gender on the entire country through the Civil Rights Act.

To that point, Rep. Chris Stewart (R–Utah), the author of FFA, in an op-ed described the religious liberty protections in the bill as “narrowly-defined carveouts for religious citizens and institutions.” We are deeply concerned that the author of the bill thought of the protections for religious citizens and institutions in this way.

As Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, often notes, “A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere.” The ERLC believes this legislation would diminish foundational individual freedoms and dramatically expand the government’s power to create, enforce, and teach a radical perspective on gender and sexuality. The bill fails in many key respects to protect the consciences of a range of professionals, individuals, and others in a variety of circumstances.

It is true that the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is preserved in the Fairness For All Act of 2021 and that the bill contains a number of other protections for communities of faith. We support this policy and several of the individual provisions within the bill. But even still, these proposed changes to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would bring a significant shift in civil rights law, religious liberty, and the foundations of civic pluralism.

While the bill contains clear and direct protections for individuals who identify as LGBT, many of the religious freedom protections identified by the bill’s proponents are vague and indirect. The ERLC believes this imbalance leaves many key issues up for interpretation by the judiciary, leaving the final outcomes of the bill unknown. In other cases, we are concerned the lack of clarity would chill expression and prevent individuals from standing on the conscience and religious freedom rights that would be created by the bill. Indeed, the core disagreement about Fairness For All is the question of what the bill actually accomplishes.

The ERLC has significant concerns with the Fairness For All Act of 2021. The following outlines a number of areas that are particularly troublesome:

  • Faith-based child welfare providers would be inadequately protected by the bill. The bill would introduce a complex new structure for funding foster care and adoption across the United States. It is unclear whether state welfare agencies broadly support such a change, and it is also unclear whether this new funding model is sound policy for the foster care system as a whole. Further, because these provisions lack clear and direct protections for faith-based child welfare providers, the protections may not be as effective or durable as FFA proponents have argued.
  • Parents of children who express questions about their sexuality may have their parental decisions challenged by courts and child protection agencies. The bill includes a requirement for foster parents to provide gender reassignment therapy for foster children experiencing gender dysphoria. The bill contains no provision that would limit the application of this standard for foster parents to biological parents as well.
  • Medical professionals and providers who serve everyone would be required to administer gender reassignment treatments if they provide the same underlying treatments for other conditions. That is, if a physician performs hysterectomies for cancer patients or hormone therapy for patients with hormone imbalances, she must administer those same treatments for patients seeking gender reassignments. The bill would provide no conscience protections for physicians, clinics, or hospitals in those circumstances.
  • Religiously affiliated schools that accept relevant federal funding (e.g., students who use the school lunch program), will no longer be able to maintain sex-segregated spaces and programs including locker rooms, bathrooms, athletics, and housing without obtaining permission from the government after an assessment of whether the school is “substantially religious” and whether their the school’s practices are “religious standards” enforced with “reasonable consistency.” Under Fairness for All, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act would supersede any Education Amendments.
  • Religiously affiliated employers that do not fit the narrow exemptions delineated in the bill would be prohibited from hiring according to their mission statements and beliefs, undermining the ability of the employer to fulfill and pursue its mission. Such organizations would be required to hire people who do not live in accordance to their mission statements and to cover gender transitions with their healthcare benefits. 
  • All Americans would be impacted by the requirements of this bill. The bill would change the nature of intimate and private spaces throughout the country, impose federal requirements for pronoun use in many circumstances, and use federal civil rights law to teach a new ideology of gender and sexuality of which many Americans disagree.

Again, many of the proponents of Fairness For All are friends of the ERLC and allies on a host of issues, and that is still the case. We look forward to working together on many areas of common concern in the years ahead just as in the years past. We do not question the motives of those who disagree with us on this bill. But we do not believe this bill would adequately and effectively protect people of faith and promote the common good.

By / Aug 28

This week marks the 57th anniversary of the original March on Washington. This event, held on Aug. 28, 1963, helped to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

Here are five facts you should know about the landmark civil rights protest march.

1. The event—officially known as the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”—was organized by the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement: A. Philip Randolph, Whitney M. Young, Jr., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, and John Lewis. Bayard Rustin was chief organizer of the march. 

Although the organizers disagreed about the purpose of the march, the group came together on a set of goals: passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; immediate elimination of school segregation; a program of public works, including job training, for the unemployed; a federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring; a $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide; withholding Federal funds from programs that tolerate discrimination; enforcement of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by reducing congressional representation from states that disenfranchise citizens; a broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to currently excluded employment areas; and authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when constitutional rights are violated.

2. The event took a staggering level of logistical effort. Organizers and officials planned for a crowd of about 150,000. But on the day of the march over 250,000 gathered together on the National Mall. To get to Washington, D.C., protesters took more than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, 10 chartered airliners, and uncounted cars. All regularly scheduled planes, trains, and buses were also filled to capacity. On the National Mall, over 100 portable toilets were set up along with 16 first-aid stations. Eight 2,500-gallon water tanks were set up, which fed some 21 portable water fountains. Additionally, spouts were attached to fire hydrants so marchers would have access to drinking water. Volunteers prepared some 80,000 boxed lunches—sold for 50 cents each—consisting of a cheese sandwich, an apple, and a slice of cake.

3. Event organizer Bayard Rustin recruited 4,000 off-duty police officers and firemen to serve as event marshals, and coached them in the crowd control techniques he’d learned in India studying nonviolent political participation. The official law enforcement also included 5,000 police, National Guardsmen, and Army reservists. No marchers were arrested, though, and no incidents concerning marchers were reported.

4. Representatives from each of the sponsoring organizations addressed the crowd from the podium at the Lincoln Memorial. Speakers (dubbed “The Big Ten”) included The Big Six; three religious leaders (Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish); and labor leader Walter Reuther. Along with the speakers, the marchers were entertained by celebrities, including Ossie Davis, Joan Baez, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Jackie Robinson.

5. King was the last speaker because no one else wanted that slot, since all of the other speakers assumed the news media would leave by mid-afternoon. King agreed to take it and planned to speak for four minutes, but ended up speaking for 16 minutes. He improvised the most recognizable, memorable part of the speech for which he is most famous, according to his speechwriter and attorney Clarence B. Jones. Although King had spoken about a dream before two months earlier in Detroit, the “dream” was not in the text prepared by Jones. King initially followed the text Jones had written but gospel singer Mahalia Jackson yelled, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” King nodded to her, placed the text of his speech aside, and veered off-script, delivering extemporaneously what is referred to as the “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most famous orations in American history.

By / Apr 12

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act on 1968. Here are five facts about the final great legislative achievement of the civil rights era.

1. The original goal of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was to extend federal protection to civil rights workers, who were being intimidated, assaulted, and sometimes murdered, while organizing and registering black voters throughout the South. The bill was eventually expanded to address racial discrimination in housing, which is why it is most commonly known as the Fair Housing Act.

2. In the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., riots spread through 110 cities throughout the United States. Washington, D.C. was among the most affected cities, as the mayor imposed a curfew and President Lyndon B. Johnson dispatched more than 13,000 federal troops to curtail the riots. At the time, the legislation was languishing in the House of Representatives’ Rules Committee. But as Marion Morris and Charles Mathias, Jr., note, “The Rules Committee, jolted by the repeated civil disturbances virtually outside its door, finally ended its hearings on April 8. The next day, it reported to the full House a rule for debate that agreed to the Senate amendments, including the compromise fair housing title, and prohibited any additional amendments.” The following day, April 10, the House debated for one hour the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and passed it 250–71. The very next day, President Johnson signed the bill into law.

3. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibits housing discrimination because of race, color, religion, familial status, or national origin (gender was added in 1974, and people with disabilities and families with children in 1988). The law makes it illegal to refuse to “sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because they belong to the prohibited category.” The Act also makes it unlawful to “deny any person access to or membership or participation in any multiple-listing service, real estate brokers' organization or other service, organization, or facility relating to the business of selling or renting dwellings, or to discriminate against him in the terms or conditions of such access, membership, or participation, on account of the prohibited category.”

4. The Act includes an exemption for religious organizations. According to the law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, is exempted from limiting the sale, rental or occupancy of dwellings which it owns or operates for other than a commercial purpose to persons of the same religion, or from giving preference to such persons, unless membership in such religion is restricted on account of race, color, or national origin.

 5. The legislation also included the Anti-Riot Act. This provision is sometimes referred to as the “H. Rap Brown Law” since it was believed to be a response to H. Rap Brown, a member of the Black Panther Party who was arrested and charged with inciting a riot. The text of the law states:

Whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses any facility of interstate or foreign commerce or uses any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including, but not limited to, the mail, telegraph, telephone, radio, or television, with intent – (A) to incite a riot; or (B) to organize, promote, encourage, participate in, or carry on a riot; or (C) to commit any act of violence in furtherance of a riot; or (D) to aid or abet any person in inciting or participating in or carrying on a riot or committing any act of violence in furtherance of a riot . . . Shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

By / Jul 2

Daniel Darling and Trillia Newbell discuss the historical and spiritual significance of the Civil Right Act.