By / Jun 27

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.” 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)

Through the Equality Act, Congress would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs about human dignity and marriage. While the proposed intention of this bill is to protect individuals who identify as LGBT, the bill fails to respect people’s freedom of conscience. A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere. In its pursuit of fleeting cultural ideals, the Equality Act erodes foundational constitutional freedoms.

The Equality Act undermines decades of civil rights protections for women and girls. Women’s shelters for those escaping domestic abuse or homelessness would be forced to house biological males who identify as women. The Equality Act disregards the privacy and safety concerns that women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with the opposite sex. This legislation would also harm women’s sports and scholarships as girls would be forced to compete with biological males for limited positions.

The Equality Act threatens the efforts of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies. The legislation would explicitly curtail the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, thereby forcing faith-based child welfare organizations to either abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down. State enforced closures of such agencies is especially harmful at a time when multiple social crises increase the need for children services.

The Equality Act hinders the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals. While religiously affiliated hospitals routinely serve patients of any background, including those who identify as LGBT, providers who hold moral or religious beliefs cannot perform every procedure a patient requests. For example, doctors and nurses who object to gender reassignment surgeries for moral, religious, or scientific reasons would be forced to provide the procedure or risk losing their jobs.

The Equality Act would also force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. This bill would roll back decades of conscience protections that protect pro-life nurses and physicians who object to participating in abortions because of their deeply held religious beliefs. No person should be compelled to participate in an act they believe to be the taking of a human life. Additionally, it would jeopardize the longstanding Hyde Amendment that protects federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion.

The Equality Act would undermine the ability of Americans who disagree to work together for the common good. These legislative changes represent a dramatic departure from the foundations of civic tolerance. If enacted, the Equality Act would bring sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty with devastating effects to this foundational freedom. Due to these concerns, among many others, the ERLC strongly opposes the Equality Act.

By / Mar 10

On March 9, President Biden released his Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal. Every year, the president submits his budget proposal, and it serves as a blueprint for the administration’s priorities. A president’s budget proposal has no binding authority over Congress and will not become law. Rather, it is a request and a statement of priorities that serves as a starting point for negotiations in Congress as the House of Representatives and the Senate work on the 12 spending appropriations bills that fund the government. Given that Republicans now control the House of Representatives, it is likely that the final budget will look quite different from this initial proposal.

The ERLC actively engages in the appropriations process each year. In the president’s budget proposal, there are areas of deep concern, but also areas of possible collaboration. As negotiations begin in Congress, the ERLC will share these concerns and advocate for changes that protect life, promote religious liberty, support families, and respect human dignity.

Exclusion of pro-life riders and increased funding for abortion providers

Biden’s budget proposal includes a request for a 79% increase in additional funding for abortion providers through the Title X Family Planning program over last year’s enacted amounts. Though pro-life riders have traditionally kept this funding from directly funding abortion procedures, abortion providers are still able to receive funding through the Title X Family Planning program and other government funds to cover operational costs, allowing them to more easily reserve non-taxpayer dollars for abortion services. Although it is vital for women of any economic status to have access to important healthcare services, abortion — the act of taking a life — is not healthcare.

Additionally, the budget includes investments in “reproductive healthcare” at the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as funding for pro-abortion family planning internationally. Since the Dobbs decision, the Biden administration has made a number of moves to expand abortion access and coverage at VA facilities for those currently or formerly in the military. The budget includes $57 million to support the UN Population fund, a pro-abortion organization. As we seek to aid impoverished nations around the world, we should offer them real medical aid – not abortion.

Notably, for the third time since its inception in 1976, the Hyde Amendment has presumably been excluded from the president’s proposal. The Hyde Amendment is a budget rider on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill to prevent Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. This rider, along with other pro-life riders, are essential in protecting life as well as the consciences of millions of American taxpayers. Though the portion of the president’s budget request that was released on Thursday seems to indicate that these riders have been excluded, we will not know definitively until additional appendixes are released next week.

Before the Hyde Amendment was introduced, approximately 300,000 abortions a year were performed using federal Medicaid dollars. It is estimated that the Hyde Amendment has saved over 2 million lives since it was enacted. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has been passed by every Congress. Its success across the generations is not due to a shared belief about abortion but precisely because those representatives and senators believed the disagreement deserved respect. It is vital that Congress, throughout negotiations, attaches the Hyde-family of riders that protect life and protect the consciences of millions of Americans. It is important to note that although Biden’s FY 2022 and 2023 budget proposals also excluded these amendments, they were ultimately included in the final appropriations packages passed by Congress.

Emphasis on advancing gender equity

Throughout the budget proposal, Biden includes multiple proposals that advance “gender equity,” which includes sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). The president’s budget proposal would expand SOGI protections in all areas of life, invests $3 billion to “advance gender equity” internationally, and commits to providing gender-affirming care to veterans in VA facilities, with taxpayer funding. Efforts to advance SOGI as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. 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.

Potentially helpful areas of investment

Though increased funding does not always necessitate better outcomes, we affirm the president’s desire to promote human flourishing through investment in a number of areas. Given that our spending allocations are often a statement of what we prioritize as a nation, it is encouraging to see emphasis from the president on a few key areas:

  • Improving border security and immigration processing: The budget proposal includes an increase of $800 million for border security agencies and increased investments in border patrol and processing personnel. That investment in border security is coupled with increased funding for meeting humanitarian needs at the border and funding for 150 new immigration judge teams to speed up asylum processing. 
  • Rebuilding refugee resettlement and supporting Afghan evacuees: The proposal includes a $7.3 billion investment in resettling 125,000 refugees in the next fiscal year as well as responding to the needs of unaccompanied migrant children. The budget also includes funding for expedited processing and increased visas available for Afghans who served with the US military and were evacuated to the U.S. following the Taliban’s takeover.
  • Supporting vulnerable mothers and families: Though we would not fully support all aspects of these programs as proposed, the proposal includes several initiatives related to reducing maternal mortality, expanding insurance coverage for postpartum mothers, ensuring paid leave for new parents, and expanding the Child Tax Credit. While we have disagreements with the administration about some of the specifics of these policies, it is encouraging to see pro-family policies receive a prominent position in the president’s proposal.
  • Making adoption more affordable: The budget proposal includes initiatives that seek to better support children and families in the adoption and foster care systems. It also proposes making the adoption tax credit fully refundable, something the ERLC has long advocated for, making adoption more affordable and accessible 
  • Implementing the First Step Act: In 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act, a package of significant criminal justice reforms, supported by the ERLC. This budget proposal includes financial investments in implementing that law to support rehabilitative programming, improving prison conditions, and hiring new staff to implement First Step Act reforms.

What’s next?

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin the appropriations process which includes a hearing to discuss budget requests and writing and marking up the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government. Congress will have the opportunity to make significant changes, such as including the Hyde Amendment and other important pro-life riders, as they did in Fiscal Year 2023. It is likely that each chamber, and thus each party, will release competing versions of these bills, and negotiations will be fierce as lawmakers debate what will be included in the final package. 

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 and harmful policies are excluded. The ERLC will continuously advocate for the inclusion of these pro-life provisions as well as other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life around the world.

By / Feb 28

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on “The Equal Rights Amendment: How Congress Can Recognize Ratification and Enshrine Equality in Our Constitution.” This is the first time the Senate has held a hearing on the ERA since 1984. It is anticipated that during March the full Senate will hold a vote on a joint resolution that would remove the ratification deadline and recognize the ERA as a valid constitutional amendment.

What is the Equal Rights Amendment?

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would clarify that men and women have “equal rights” throughout the United States. The amendment was first introduced into Congress in 1923 and an amended version passed in 1972.

Why is it problematic?

Though it has long been advertised as an amendment focused solely on women’s equality, the ERA has many implications for life, religious liberty, and human dignity.

  • The ERA could eliminate any federal or state restrictions on abortion, even partial-birth or third-trimester abortions. Protecting vulnerable life should be a top priority of any just government. The United States is one of only a handful of countries that provide late-term abortions. Government’s basic duty is to protect human life from bodily harm and provide justice for victims of violence. Now, in a post-Roe world, this amendment could prohibit pro-life states from enacting their own laws that protect life.
  • The ERA could require taxpayer funding for abortions by eliminating the Hyde Amendment. Americans are divided on abortion policy, and many object to the use of their tax dollars for such a great moral wrong. In 1976, Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde proposed an amendment to an Appropriations bill to prohibit the use of federal funds for abortion. Since then, the Hyde Amendment passed every Congress for over forty years.
  • The ERA could eliminate conscience protections for medical professionals. No healthcare worker should be forced to participate in abortions or other medical procedures which conflict with their religiously informed conscience. Every American ought to be able to legally defend their inalienable right to freedom of conscience.
  • The ERA could eliminate distinctions based on sex, and effectively erase sex-segregated spaces, leaving women vulnerable. Spaces segregated on the basis of sex for reasons of safety and privacy, such as women’s shelters and prisons, could be viewed as discriminatory and opened to biological men. This loss of equal protection would make women and girls vulnerable. 

How is the ERLC advocating?

The ERLC affirms that God created every person—male and female—in his own image and endowed them with equal value and dignity. We also affirm that every life, including the preborn, is worthy of protection. Unfortunately, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) debate is tainted with abortion politics. Abortion denies precious lives, both boys and girls, personhood and protection. The ERLC has communicated these concerns with lawmakers and is actively advocating against adding this harmful amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

More about the ERA

After passing both houses of Congress, the ERA was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. For the amendment to be adopted, the Constitution required that it be ratified by three-fourths of the states by March 22, 1979. Between 1972 and 1977, 35 states had ratified the amendment. However, five states rescinded their earlier ratification: Nebraska (1973), Tennessee (1974), Idaho (1977), Kentucky (1978), and South Dakota (1979). 

By the time of the 1979 ratification deadline, the amendment was still three states short of the required number needed for passage, so Congress extended the deadline to June 30, 1982. The Southern Baptist Convention, in a 1978 resolution, opposed this decision to extend the deadline and “any amendment or any substitute bills which would provide for extension of the time for states to ratify the ERA.”

Since then, the ERA has been reintroduced in Congress every session as advocates have argued that the ratification deadline could be changed or discarded. The status of this amendment has been the subject of decades of litigation and debate with current proponents arguing that the ERA “was ratified by three-fourths of the states and is therefore a valid constitutional amendment, regardless of any time limit that was in the original proposal.”

By / Jan 30

Public policy advocacy is one of the primary ways that the ERLC fulfills its ministry in the public square. We recently released our 2023 Public Policy Agenda, which outlines more than three dozen policy issues that will shape our work in Washington, D.C., this year.

What will make advocacy challenging?

The first session of the 118th Congress is now underway, and it begins as the nation is grappling with war around the world, inflation at home, and deep division across our citizenry. This also begins a new era of divided government with a Democratic president, a narrow Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, and a slim Republican majority in the House.

This dynamic ensures legislating and governing will be a difficult task, and that broadly speaking, only legislation with substantial bipartisan consensus will be able to pass both chambers and be signed by President Biden. Amidst these realities, the ERLC will work to advance and make progress on our public policy agenda in these divided times at the federal level.

Below is a sample of our policy priorities in the areas of religious liberty, sanctity of human life, family and marriage, and human dignity. Some of these issues have been a part of the ERLC’s public policy agenda for the last several years; other issues are new and a product of the political moment in which we find ourselves.

Religious Liberty

Oppose The Equality Act

There have been multiple pieces of legislation introduced in recent years which aim to, at their most extreme, codify the demands of the sexual revolution and radically reshape religious freedom in the United States. In February 2021, the House passed The Equality Act—a bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law. 

The bill would curtail religious freedom protections, hinder the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately steamroll the consciences of millions of Americans.

The ERLC believes that this bill represents the most significant threat to religious liberty ever considered in Congress.

We will continue to lead efforts to oppose the Equality Act and any similar legislation introduced this session. As we do so, we will advocate for a public square solution that protects and upholds the dignity of all people and their rights, while ensuring that religiously motivated individuals and institutions are free to live and act according to their deeply held convictions.

Support Conscience Protections for Healthcare Workers

No healthcare worker should have to compromise their deeply held beliefs in order to administer care. Now, both in a post-Roe world and as our country’s views on issues of sexuality and gender have shifted rapidly, healthcare providers are being increasingly mandated to participate in or provide insurance coverage for procedures and practices that conflict with their religiously informed consciences. 

The Conscience Protection Act provides conscience protections for Americans with religious or moral objections to health insurance that covers contraception methods.

We believe such legislation is critical to curb conscience abuses across the country. 

Additionally, the ERLC has submitted public comments on a number of regulatory actions from the Biden administration that further threaten the consciences of medical professionals. One such recent action to which the ERLC will be filing comments in opposition is the rescission of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Trump-era “Conscience Rule.”

The ERLC will continue to advocate for the protection of consciences in legislation and will oppose any regulatory actions that attempt to rescind similar protections in federal law.

Respond to the Decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis

In December 2022, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this important religious liberty case. Lorie Smith, a creative professional who has created many kinds of custom websites for all types of people, refuses to use her “design skills and creativity to express messages that violate her deeply held religious convictions.” The state of Colorado views Smith’s work as a public accommodation. This would subject it to Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination, including refusal of service, against any protected class, including sexual orientation or gender identity. This puts Smith’s desire to run her business according to her beliefs in direct conflict with Colorado’s law. 

Though the results of this case will have ramifications for religious liberty, the primary issue centers on speech.

The central question before the court is “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.” A decision in this landmark case is expected this summer.

Continue the China International Religious Freedom Initiative

Over the past several years, the Chinese government has severely escalated its persecution of religious minorities, including Christians. Since April 2017, China has systematically detained more than one million Uyghur Muslims and placed them into “re-education camps” where they are prevented from engaging in their religious practices and subjected to physiological and, oftentimes, physical persecution.

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 United States and international pressure towards alleviating their persecution.

In 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention was the first denomination to pass a resolution rightly calling what is happening to the Uyghur people a genocide. The ERLC has hosted events to highlight these atrocities, advocated for the genocide determination with both the Trump and Biden administrations, and worked for the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. We will continue to be a voice for the persecuted in China.

Sanctity of Human Life

Protect Pro-life Riders in the Congressional Appropriations Process

Each year as we carefully analyze Congress’s appropriations bills, we work to ensure that historic pro-life riders are maintained and included. Pro-life amendments have been attached to appropriations bills as “riders” for years. For over 40 years, the Hyde Amendment has protected American consciences and been recognized by each Congress as they passed it into law through the appropriations process.

In 2022, we saw a serious threat to the Hyde Amendment, as the House abandoned its inclusion in appropriations legislation for the second time since it was enacted. It was ultimately a significant victory for these riders to be included in the fiscal year 2023 appropriations package. An end to the Hyde Amendment is a major priority of groups that oppose our pro-life views.

We will work to preserve the Hyde Amendment not only because it prevents government-funded violence against preborn children but also because it prevents the government from coercing citizens to act against their consciences in the taxpayer incentivization of something we believe to be unjust. 

Other pro-life amendments include the Weldon Amendment, protecting the consciences of healthcare workers from discrimination on the basis of their refusal to provide, pay for, or refer women for abortion. The Siljander Amendment prohibits United States funds from being used to lobby for or against abortion. We will seek to ensure that we do not sacrifice other riders such as the Dornan Amendment, the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, or the Helms Amendment at the expense of saving the Hyde Amendment.

All of these pro-life riders are important and must be protected.

Ending the Proliferation of Chemical Abortions

Chemical abortion (sometimes referred to as medication abortion or pharmaceutical abortion) is a method that uses an abortifacient to stimulate uterine contractions and end the pregnancy in a process similar to miscarriage. As surgical abortion procedures have declined, chemical abortions have risen, making up 53% of the total in 2020. As many states severely restricted or banned access to abortion following the Dobbs decision, it is likely that this number will continue rising. 

Because these drugs not only take the life of a preborn child but also pose serious threats to the women who take them, the ERLC has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to categorize the abortion pill mifepristone, sold under the brand name Mifeprex, as an “imminent hazard to the public health.”

However, the FDA in 2021 moved to increase access by permanently allowing these abortion pills to be delivered by mail. In January of 2023, the FDA moved to allow local retail pharmacies to dispense these drugs in states where it is legal, furthering the accessibility of these life-taking drugs and putting more women and preborn children at risk.

The ERLC supports federal legislation such as the SAVE Moms and Babies Act that would begin to regulate this predatory industry.

Oppose the Women’s Health Protection Act

The Women’s Health Protection Act removes all restrictions and limits on abortion and allows for abortion up to the point of birth. Additionally, this bill removes all pro-life protections at the federal and state levels and eliminates a state’s ability to legislate on abortion. This bill also fails to protect the consciences of American taxpayers by utilizing taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions.

This bill was passed by the House of Representatives twice last year—the most pro-abortion bill to have passed the House—but did not receive a vote in the Senate. The ERLC and the pro-life community strongly opposed this bill and will continue to do so in the upcoming year.

Family and Marriage

Support Pro-Family Policy in a Post-Roe World

If the family is the most foundational unit of society, it is crucial that all aspects of federal policy provide a platform for families to thrive and flourish.

An essential aspect of our advocacy for life in this new, post-Roe world must be for policies that address financial insecurity and other key factors that drive women to seek abortions.

The ERLC will be advocating for policies that remedy marriage penalties, empower abortion-vulnerable women to choose life, and provide baseline levels of support for new parents. This is consistent with the 2022 SBC Resolution that urged a focus on “pro-life and pro-family policies that serve and support vulnerable women, children, and families” as we work to “eliminate any perceived need for the horror of abortion.”

Support the Adoptee Citizenship Act

Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally were unnecessarily burdensome. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the United States who had at least one parent who was a United States citizen.

Unfortunately, that act 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. The Adoptee Citizenship Act closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these children already adopted by U.S. citizens yet left out of the previous bill.

Ensure Intercountry Adoption Remains a Viable Option

In fiscal year 2021, only 1,785 children were welcomed into families through intercountry adoption. There has also been a decline in stateside adoption agencies facilitating intercountry adoption, narrowing the options for prospective parents. Many countries and cultures are becoming more open to domestic foster care and adoption, which is certainly good news and ought to be encouraged.

However, there are still millions of orphans worldwide waiting to be raised in a family where they are known and loved instead. Intercountry adoption must remain a viable option for welcoming children into homes, and we must do all we can to facilitate those 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.

Human Dignity

Support a Permanent Solution for Dreamers

After multiple attempts to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, litigation that went all the way to the Supreme Court, and new litigation that is likely headed back to the high court, those young immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents remain in an unstable situation. These immigrants broke no law, and yet they remain without permanent legal status. Now young adults, these Dreamers—many of whom have families of their own with children who are U.S. citizens—are workers, students, and positive contributors to their communities.

At the same time, we continue to see record numbers of individuals seeking asylum at our southern border, creating a humanitarian crisis.

As part of desperately needed immigration reform, we will continue to work closely with Congress and the Biden administration to create a permanent legislative solution for our Dreamer neighbors that also addresses necessary border improvements. 

Support Further Criminal Justice Reform

Following on the heels of the historic First Step Act, which was passed at the end of 2018, the ERLC will continue to advocate for reforms that focus on transformation and rehabilitation.

Two such bills are the Recognizing Education, Employment, New Skills, and Treatment to Enable Reintegration Act (RE-ENTER Act) and the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act (EQUAL Act). The RE-ENTER Act allows eligible individuals with federal convictions to apply for a certificate of rehabilitation from a district court, attesting to a law-abiding future and a commitment to successful reintegration into society. 

Several states already issue such certificates, which have proven successful in aiding recipients with employment and housing—two factors necessary for successful reintegration. The EQUAL Act would remedy the disparity in federal sentencing for crack and powder cocaine related crimes. Over 40 states have already corrected this unjust, inconsistent practice.

Both of these bills have broad bipartisan support, and the ERLC will continue to advocate for their swift passage.

Rebuild the Refugee Resettlement Program

Though President Biden set an ambitious goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022, the United States only successfully resettled about 25,000 individuals. This is largely due to previous cuts to the program and to the network of nonprofits and community organizations that support refugee resettlement. For the last several years, the United States has not carried its share of the burden at a time of historically high levels of refugees and internally displaced people worldwide. 

These changes to the refugee resettlement program have had devastating effects on those who have been persecuted for their faith, particularly our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Additionally, a well-functioning refugee system is an important tool to relieve pressure at the U.S.-Mexico border, where asylum seekers have continued to come in record numbers. President Biden has again set a goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2023.

The ERLC is working to ensure that resettlement agencies and churches working with these refugees are able to fully rebuild and welcome these vulnerable people well. 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.

By / Jan 27

In this episode, Lindsay and Brent discuss this year’s March for Life, George Santos’ deception, and the classified documents debacle. 

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  • Dobbs Resource Page | The release of the Dobbs decision marks a true turning point in the pro-life movement, a moment that Christians, advocates and many others have worked toward tirelessly for 50 years. Let us rejoice that we live in a nation where past injustices can still be corrected, as we also roll our sleeves up to save preborn lives, serve vulnerable mothers, and support families in our communities. To get more resources on this case, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Sexual Ethics Resource Page | Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of entertainment and messages that challenge the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics? It often feels like we’re walking through uncharted territory. But no matter what we face in our ever-shifting culture, God’s design for human sexuality has never changed. The ERLC’s new sexual ethics resource page is full of helpful articles, videos, and explainers that will equip you to navigate these important issues with truth and grace. Get these free resources at ERLC.com/sexualethics.
By / Nov 14

Though results are still coming in from Tuesday’s midterm elections that will determine which party controls the House of Representatives, Congress is coming back in session today with a long list of legislative items to do before the end of the year. This session between the election and the swearing in of the new Congress in January is called the Lame Duck session.

This year, Congress must pass either an omnibus appropriations bill (a budget for this 2023 fiscal year) or another continuing resolution by December 16 to avoid a government shutdown and fund the government, as well as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), before the end of the year. Additionally, Congressional leaders have indicated that they may use this time to pass the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate, reform the Electoral Count Act, take up permitting reforms, or raise the debt ceiling. As uncertainty lingers and fallout grows from Republicans’ disappointing electoral results, it remains to be seen exactly what will be done before the end of the year.

The Lame Duck also presents a unique opportunity for smaller, bipartisan bills to be passed into law. Oftentimes, these bills will be added on to the omnibus or NDAA packages. Other times, retiring lawmakers or those who were not reelected will be more willing to take votes that go against their party because they will not have to face voters following this session. These dynamics come together to occasionally allow bills to find passage that have been stuck in Congressional gridlock.

As we enter into this important legislative session, the ERLC will be advocating on behalf of Southern Baptists to uphold life and religious liberty and pursue biblical justice for the vulnerable. In this session, the ERLC’s top priorities will be protecting life and religious liberty in appropriations, opposing the Respect for Marriage Act, and advocating for permanent protections for Dreamers and Afghans in the US.

Protecting life and religious liberty in appropriations

Congress must either complete its 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. 

The FY2023 appropriations bills are troubling because they remove 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. Weldon 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 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. The ERLC is urging Congress to support 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. We also are urging Congress to remove harmful provisions that would exclude people of faith from serving the most vulnerable. 

Opposing the Respect for Marriage Act

The Respect for Marriage Act is a bill that seeks to “repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and codify federal recognition for marriage equality.” As stated in the bill summary, “the bill repeals and replaces provisions that define, for purposes of federal law, marriage as between a man and a woman and spouse as a person of the opposite sex with provisions that recognize any marriage that is valid under state law.” The Respect for Marriage Act would also permit the Department of Justice “to bring a civil action” and would establish “a private right of action for violations.”

The Respect for Marriage Act is a federal legislative attempt to entrench, nationwide, the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which ruled that “state laws barring same-sex marriages were unconstitutional.” At its core, this bill is a further attempt by Congress to redefine marriage, a union that need not be redefined and which government has no authority to redefine.

On July 19, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Respect for Marriage Act with broad bipartisan support. The final vote was 267-157, with 47 Republicans joining with all Democrats in support of the bill. Before it can become law, the bill must be passed in the Senate and be signed by the president. For the bill to pass, 10 GOP senators will have to join all Democrats to overcome the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold. Senate Majority Leader Schumer has indicated that he plans to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, and sponsors indicate that they believe they will have enough votes 

In addition to going against the biblical definition of marriage, the bill poses serious problems for religious liberty. In a letter sent to the Senate on July 26, ERLC President Brent Leatherwood conveyed why the Respect for Marriage Act presents such grave religious liberty concerns for people of faith. He said, “Given the significant role marriage plays in faith, the ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ raises serious religious liberty concerns for individuals and organizations who maintain this view of marriage (the view that marriage is an institution created by God between one man and one woman for life) and are in contract with, funded by, or working jointly with the government.” 

Since Obergefell, rights of conscience and religious freedom have found themselves in the crosshairs of a number of notable cases including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021), each of which was ruled in favor of religious liberty. Should the Respect for Marriage Act find passage, however, we may rightly assume that rights of conscience and religious freedom will find themselves under threat yet again. The ERLC strongly opposes the Respect for Marriage Act and will continue to work against its passage in the Senate. 

Advocating for Dreamers and Afghans

Two populations of vulnerable people in need of Congressional action before a new Congress is sworn in are Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought here by their undocumented parents, and Afghan evacuees, who were brought to the United States through humanitarian parole after the fall of Afghanistan last year.

A recent decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) to be unlawful but temporarily allowed Dreamers, who currently hold DACA status, to temporarily maintain their status. The decision is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, where it is expected that the high court will uphold the decision, terminating the program. This recent decision means that Congressional action for Dreamers is needed more urgently than ever before.

Dreamers, through DACA, only have temporary protection with no path to legal permanent residency or citizenship, and only Congress is able to pass legislation that creates such a pathway to permanency. For now, these young immigrants, who were brought here at no fault of their own and have known no other home than the U.S., remain in severe uncertainty, facing potential future deportation if the DACA program were to be terminated.

Similarly, last year during the fall of Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghans who had served with the U.S. military or were especially vulnerable to persecution from the Taliban were evacuated to the U.S. through a tool known as humanitarian parole. Though this tool allows individuals to reach safety much faster than through the refugee resettlement program, it only provides two years of legal status and work authorization, whereas the refugee program includes a route to legal permanent residency or citizenship.

As these individuals approach two years in the U.S. this upcoming summer, they will be forced to either enter our backlogged asylum system, become undocumented and lose their ability to work legally, or face deportation back to Afghanistan, where they will almost assuredly face intense persecution. To remedy this problem, Congress must act to provide these individuals with a pathway to permanent status in the United States. The Afghan Adjustment Act would provide this protection for Afghans while also increasing national security through additional vetting procedures.

Both of these groups of people have an urgent need for Congressional action. Additionally, Kevin McCarthy, who is likely to be the future Speaker of the House of Representatives if Republicans win the majority, as expected, has indicated that he will oppose any immigration legalization legislation and block it from coming to the House floor for a vote. This reality makes it essential for Congress to take up protections for both Dreamers and Afghans before the new Congress begins. The ERLC is urging Congress to act quickly and provide a pathway to permanency for these vulnerable groups that have already become integral parts of our churches and communities. 

By / Aug 26

In this episode, Lindsay talks with Hannah Daniel, ERLC Policy Manager, about the ERLC Washington, D.C., office, Congress reconvening soon, and our priorities for the fall. They also discuss the SBC’s Global Hunger Sunday held on Aug. 28. 

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By / Aug 6

This weekend, the Senate is delaying their long-awaited August recess to consider a major funding package. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 is a smaller version of President Biden’s failed Build Back Better package that included over $2.4 trillion in new spending. The IRA introduces $485 billion in new spending on energy subsidies, stricter tax enforcement, and healthcare provisions, and the bill promises to reduce deficits by $305 billion through 2031. Senators will spend their weekend debating and amending this large omnibus package using a complex legislative tool known as “reconciliation.” As Christians seek to be well informed on the workings of our government, play an active role in our democracy, and ensure the well-being of our neighbors, it is important to more fully understand this complicated procedure.

What is the reconciliation process?

Normal legislative debate is guided by long-standing filibuster rules. The filibuster requires 60 votes to invoke cloture, a key vote that ends otherwise endless debate and blocks the offering of unrelated amendments. But legislation considered under the reconciliation process is not subject to filibuster rules. Instead, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 automatically limits Senate debate to 20 hours, blocks germane amendments, and only requires a simple majority vote to advance a reconciliation package from the chamber. These adjusted rules empower a simple majority of senators to bypass legislative gridlock and fast-track legislation to the president’s desk.

Since the process’ inception, many landmark reconciliation packages have had major implications for federal spending and tax policy. Over almost 50 years, Congress and the president have enacted 22 reconciliation packages, including deficit reduction bills in the 1980s and 1990s, the Clinton welfare reform package in 1996, the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, the Obama Affordable Care Act amendments in 2010, the Trump tax cuts in 2017, and the American Rescue Plan supported by President Biden in 2021.

What is the Byrd Rule?

While the reconciliation process can be a useful tool to pass heavily partisan legislation, Senate rules strictly limit the scope and content of any reconciliation bills. A reconciliation directive known as the Byrd Rule instructs Congress to only consider budgetary provisions that modify federal spending, revenues, or the public debt limit. Typically, reconciliation only affects mandatory spending programs that do not require annual authorization: Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, and federal civilian and military retirement. The Byrd Rule also specifically prohibits Congress from modifying Social Security programs.

Under the Byrd Rule’s complicated review process, often called a “Byrd bath,” any senator can raise a point of order to block “extraneous” provisions that fall outside the aforementioned budgetary categories. The non-partisan Senate parliamentarian interprets whether the provision is indeed incidental to the process’ budgetary purposes and can delete such extraneous provisions, called “Byrd droppings,” from the package.

For example, during Byrd bath review of the American Rescue Plan of 2021, an expansive COVID-19 relief package, the Senate parliamentarian struck down a proposed amendment to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, much to the consternation of Senate Democrats.

What is a “vote-a-rama”?

While the special reconciliation procedures limit the amount of debate, the rules do not restrict the number of amendments that can be offered on the Senate floor. Once the 20-hour debate limit has ended, any remaining amendments are considered with little to no debate—a process known as a “vote-a-rama.” 

Each party is allotted about 30 seconds to comment on the proposed amendment, then the entire body immediately votes on the amendment. Depending on the amount of amendments offered, a vote-a-rama can last for hours, even overnight. The IRA vote-a-rama is expected to begin Saturday evening and end sometime Sunday afternoon.

The minority party typically leverages this amendment process to force majority-party senators to stake out politically unpopular positions. Given that, viewers should expect Republicans to propose hundreds of amendments on climate policy, inflation, and immigration.

How is the ERLC involved?

The ERLC will be carefully tracking the proposed amendments to the reconciliation bill and are committed to ensuring that pro-life and religious liberty protections are maintained. We had deep concerns about the Build Back Better package that was negotiated at the end of last year. We will always defend life and conscience protections, and are grateful for the members of Congress that will offer amendments protecting the pre-born and American consciences.  

By / Mar 18

In this episode, Jill Waggoner and Lindsay discuss the number of Ukrainian refugees increasing to 3.1 million and President Zelenskyy’s address to Congress. They also talk about substance abuse within the church, the call to foster care, and why cohabitation is a bad idea. In addition, Lindsay interviews Jill, a pastor’s wife, about church, COVID, and the importance of pregnancy resource centers. 

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  1. Axios: UN: Over 3.1 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian invasion began
  2. CNN: President Zelensky addressed U.S. Congress on Wed.

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By / May 29

On Friday, President Biden released his FY 2022 budget proposal. His budget notably removes the Hyde Amendment.

Every year, a president submits their budget proposal, and it serves as a blueprint for the administration’s priorities. A president’s budget proposal has no binding authority over Congress — the budget proposal is a request and a statement of priorities. The budget proposal serves as a starting point for a long negotiation in Congress as their work on the 12 spending bills that fund the government.

This is the first time since 1976 that the Hyde Amendment has not been included in a president’s budget proposal.

What is the Hyde Amendment?

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, abortion clinics were able to charge Medicaid for abortions. Three years later in 1976, Congressman Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, responded by introducing a budget rider on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill to prevent Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. This rider alleviated taxpayers from being financially responsible for something millions found to be a grave moral wrong. The congressman’s rider was added as an amendment then and later expanded to the Indian Health Service, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). 

This annual appropriations policy became known as the “Hyde Amendment.” An appropriations rider is not a permanent federal statute. Because Rep. Hyde attached the policy as a “rider” to the appropriations bill, it was only applicable for the money appropriated that year. The Hyde Amendment must therefore be attached to appropriations bills each year to be effective.

Why is the Hyde Amendment Important?

Before the Hyde Amendment was introduced, approximately 300,000 abortions a year were performed using federal Medicaid dollars. It is estimated that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million lives since it was enacted. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has been passed by every Congress. Its success across the generations is not due to a shared belief about abortion but precisely because those representatives and senators believed the disagreement deserved respect. According to a recent Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll, 58% of Americans oppose taxpayer funding for abortion domestically. In addition, since Medicaid is funded both by federal and state dollars, states can decide to use their own funding to cover abortions. Currently, 17 states have decided to use state funding to provide abortions for Medicaid recipients

Other pro-life riders that should be included in the appropriations process

The Hyde Amendment is just one of many pro-life riders that deserve to be included in all appropriations bills. Congress should also protect the Weldon (discrimination protections for those with objections to abortion), Dornan (Hyde protections in the District of Columbia), Helms (protection against funds being used for abortion in international aid), Siljander (protection against funds being used to lobby for abortion internationally), and Kamp-Kasten (protection against funds to organizations that support coercive abortion or sterilization) Amendments. 

What’s next?

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin the appropriations process which includes a hearing to discuss budget requests and writing and marking up the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government. Congress will therefore have the opportunity to include the Hyde Amendment and other important pro-life riders. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), founder and chair of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, led a letter to Leader Schumer pledging to vote to block any bill that would undermine the Hyde Amendment or any other pro-life protections. The letter included 47 senators.

Earlier this year, the ERLC sent congressional leadership a letter urging them to adhere to critical pro-life policy riders, including the Hyde Amendment. This week, we joined dozens of pro-life coalition partners in sending congressional leadership a similar letter. 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. 

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