By / Jan 7

Nearly two years after the start of the pandemic, the variant known as Omicron has led to a rapidly increasing number of new infections. It has also brought with it a deluge of news tied to COVID-19. To keep you up to date, here is a round-up of COVID-related news in three broad areas — treatments, mandates, and court challenges. 

FDA approves new treatments 

Within the past six weeks, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for two new treatments for COVID-19. 

The first treatment, authorized in late November, is an intravenous (IV) infusion of casirivimab and imdevimab. When administered together, they are used to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age or older and weighing at least 88 pounds) who have tested positive and are at high risk for progressing to a more severe condition. The infusion is also authorized for those who are 65 years of age or older or who have certain chronic medical conditions.

In clinical trials, the infusion of casirivimab and imdevimab was shown to reduce COVID-19-related hospitalization or emergency room visits in patients at high risk for disease progression within 28 days after treatment. 

The Biden administration announced that it would purchase 20 treatment courses. President Biden said he was encouraged by the “promising data” from Pfizer and said the drug would “mark a significant step forward in our path out of the pandemic.”

The second treatment, authorized in late December, is Pfizer’s Paxlovid, an antibody pill that can be taken orally. This drug is also used to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older and  weighing at least 88 pounds) who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death. Paxlovid is available by prescription only and needs to be initiated as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of symptom onset. It is not recommended in patients with severe kidney or severe liver impairment.

“Monoclonal antibodies target the spike protein on the outside of the virus and they need to be given as an injection or infusion,” said Dr. Ryan Bariola, infectious diseases director at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “whereas the oral antivirals, they’re pills, they can be taken and target different parts of the virus lifecycle.”

Neither drug is considered a substitute for vaccinations and is not used for treatment in those requiring hospitalization due to severe or critical COVID-19. 

Masks mandates resume while schools shut down

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidance that Americans who contract COVID-19 or have not been boosted and are exposed to the virus can return to normal life after five days if they wear a mask. They recommend that those who have been exposed and tested negative wear a well-fitting mask when around others at home and in public until 10 days after your last close contact with someone with COVID-19.

If a person tests positive but has no symptoms, the CDC recommends isolating for at least five days from the date of a positive test. For those who develop COVID-19 symptoms, the recommendation is to isolate for at least five days from the date the symptoms began (the date the symptoms started is day 0).

The recommendation by the CDC to wear masks has led some states and cities to maintain or reimpose mask mandates. Currently, eight states — California, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington — require most people to wear masks in indoor public places, whether or not they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico also have similar mandates. 

Connecticut has an indoor mask mandate that applies to the unvaccinated, while Rhode Island requires masks for all large venues but gives smaller businesses leeway based on patrons’ vaccination status. Washington is the only state with an outdoor mask order, requiring face-covering at outside events attended by 500 or more people. 

Eleven states have not imposed mandates at any point during the pandemic, and some, including Florida, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas, have legislation or executive action to prevent local governments and school districts from doing so. (AARP has a complete state-by-state guide to face mask requirements.)

President Biden says he’s committed to keeping schools open amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. “We know that our kids can be safe when in school,” said the president after meeting with the White House COVID-19 response team. “That’s why I believe that schools should remain open.” Many governors and mayors are also pushing for in-person learning. 

But many schools are closing because of a teacher shortage. A survey of K-12 school districts across the country found that 2,753 schools were closed in the week beginning Jan. 3. Most of the school closures involved classes going remote for the first one to two weeks of January.

As Joel Mathis points out, “In Miami, 10 percent of teachers are out sick — probably with COVID. In New York, about a third of the city’s students didn’t show up on Monday, and some of those who did couldn’t get breakfast because of a shortage of cafeteria workers. Similar problems are expected to pop up across the country in the coming days.” 

Chicago officials also canceled classes for hundreds of thousands of public school students because the city’s teachers union voted overwhelmingly (73%) for remote education.

Court challenges to COVID-related mandates and rules

Last week, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Department of Defense (DoD) from punishing 35 members of the Navy who refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in compliance with the service’s vaccine mandate due to religious objections. The DoD issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members in August, and the Department of the Navy required all active-duty Navy personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before Nov. 28 or face discipline. 

In their lawsuit, the Navy Special Warfare servicemembers allege that the military’s mandatory vaccination policy violates their religious freedoms under the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

“This Court does not make light of COVID-19’s impact on the military,” Judge Reed O’Connor writes in his order. “Collectively, our armed forces have lost 80 lives to COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic. But the question before the Court is not whether a public interest exists. Rather, this Court must address whether an injunction will disserve the public interest. An injunction does not disserve the public interest when it prevents constitutional deprivations.”

And today (Jan. 7), the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on the legality of two federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates issued under the Biden administration. The justices will be considering four appeals — Biden et al. v. Missouri et al.; Becerra et al. v. Louisiana et al.; National Federation of Independent Business et al. v. Department of Labor et al.; and Ohio et al. v. Department of Labor et al. — which have been consolidated into two separate sets of oral arguments. (Of note, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a party in this first set of cases.)

The first set of consolidated cases concerns the enforceability of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule issued last November that requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure each of their workers is fully vaccinated or tests for COVID-19 on a weekly basis. That rule was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

The second set of consolidated cases concern a rule issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) last November that mandates staff working for Medicare or Medicaid certified providers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with narrow exceptions for religious and medical reasons. 

By / Jan 3

Donning full COVID-19 protective gear—two sets of gloves, a mask, a plastic face shield, and a hazmat-style jumpsuit—Rusty Ford, a church planter in Seville, Spain, entered a nursing home in crisis during the height of the pandemic in 2020. 

He’d spend the better part of the next two months serving in any needed capacity at Joaquín Rosillo nursing home in San Juan de Aznalfarache (Seville).1https://www.elmundo.es/an=dalucia/2020/04/06/5e8b2b52fdddff15aa8b4666.html This nursing home was deemed too dangerous for most people to enter. 

Each evening as he came home to his wife, Jennifer, and four small children, they’d go to one side of the house while he put his potentially compromised clothes in the wash and showered before touching them. 

By April 2020, nearly 80 residents of this home had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Twenty-four of the residents died due to complications from the disease. 

Spain was under lockdown, as panic ensued. At this point, no one knew how the virus was spreading or much about it at all. As the country remained locked down for a total of six weeks, with people not being allowed out of their homes except for trips to the hospital, pharmacy, or grocery store, Ford knew he had to do something. 

After going through the red tape to be allowed into this underserved facility, he was granted access. 

An open door to the underserved

In the nursing home, he did a little bit of everything, he explained. 

“I’d go into rooms and I’d help clean people. I’d help feed people. Basically, whatever needed to be taken care of, I was there to do,” Ford said.

Many of these elderly people already had limited mobility. During the first few weeks of his time there, the lockdown regulations didn’t allow them to move from room to room for meals or socialization. Residents were isolated. 

But, in Ford’s capacity as a volunteer, he was able to go into the rooms and visit with the residents. In a country that is less than 1% evangelical Christian, it was crucial to offer some form of hope in the height of the crisis. 

“I was getting chances to pray with people, because people are talking now,” he said. “Everybody I was dealing with has basically never heard the gospel. And I was also getting a chance to share the gospel with some of the coworkers.”

IMB president, Paul Chitwood, remarked, 

Rusty is but one among more than 3,600 IMB missionaries who have continued to share the gospel around the world in the midst of a global pandemic. With literally thousands of short-term mission trips cancelled over the past 18 months, Southern Baptists have not been left without a witness among the nations. The risks and challenges our missionaries continue to face in light of COVID-19 are enormous, but they remain hard at work. 

Eventually, the residents of the nursing home where Ford volunteered were allowed out of their rooms, socially distanced. The volunteer/intern manager approached Ford one day with an idea. 

“Rusty, you’re a priest, right?” he asked. Since the country is predominantly Catholic, the idea of a pastor wasn’t familiar. 

“More or less,” Ford answered. When the man asked Ford if he wanted to hold religious services, he jumped at the opportunity.

Within 20 minutes of the man asking Ford to speak to the residents, he was sharing the hope of the gospel with 12 residents before their exercise class. 

“There was a ton of hopelessness because they’ve seen 24 of their friends die, and lots of people were sick,” Ford said. “I got a chance to share the gospel with around 10 or 15 people.” 

After that first time, they decided to make the service a weekly thing. Every Monday at 10 a.m., he shared the love of Christ with the residents. The group grew to an average of 25 or 30. Of those, Ford could only identify one woman who was a believer.

Grateful for new opportunities to share Christ

Eventually, his (or other volunteers) being inside the facility became too much of a liability for the facility, so the ministry ended. 

Ford was thankful for the time serving in the nursing home, despite the risks involved. 

He was thankful to simply get out of the house, he joked, since being on lockdown in a townhouse with four small kids wasn’t easy. 

He was thankful for the opportunity to share the gospel, weekly, with 25-30 people who didn’t know Christ. 

But he was also thankful for the chance it gave him to expand his ministry out of the ordinary. 

“Typically, in our strategy [as church planters] we wouldn’t focus on nursing home residents,” he explained. “It’s totally outside of the box of our normal ministry.”

But he was glad to intentionally share Christ’s love and hope where he wouldn’t have been under normal circumstances. 

  • 1
    https://www.elmundo.es/an=dalucia/2020/04/06/5e8b2b52fdddff15aa8b4666.html
By / Jan 3

Jedd Medefind

Among the most tragic ironies of COVID-19 is the disparity between the direct and the indirect impact of the virus upon children. The former has been remarkably modest, the latter catastrophic.

A study in July’s volume of the Lancet estimates that 1.1 million children1https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01253-8/fulltext were orphaned by COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic—losing at least one parent or custodial grandparent. In every country surveyed, more fathers were lost than mothers—at least by double. In some countries, the ratio was 5-to-1.  

The rates at which children were orphaned varied widely between countries. For example, at the time of the study, only 1 in every 1,666 children in England and Wales had lost a parent or primary caregiver. That number was 1 in every 286 children in Mexico; 1 in 196 in South Africa; and 1 in 98 in Peru.   

Differences in the development levels of countries, including their health systems and economies, no doubt played a part in these disparities. But the causes of variances defied easy explanation. Some of the starkest differences came between countries sharing many apparent similarities. For example, South Africa’s rate of orphanhood was more than 10 times that of neighboring Zimbabwe. Likewise, children in Peru were more than four times as likely to be orphaned than those in neighboring Columbia, even though Peru exercised some of the strictest lockdown policies in the world.  

There is reason for concern that this impact will grow worse before it gets better, especially in the developing world. At first, COVID-19 hit hardest in wealthy and/or industrialized countries. That center of gravity has shifted decisively. Now the highest death rates are consistently in developing countries.2https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-resilience-ranking/

This comes on the heels of a year and a half of local lockdowns and global stagnation that devastated the economies of many developing nations. For more than a half century, the income of these countries has risen steadily. Since the advent of COVID-19, however, it has fallen for the first time in 60 years.3https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/06/08/covid-19-to-plunge-global-economy-into-worst-recession-since-world-war-ii And while economic growth has lifted millions from poverty in recent decades, the UN now predicts that the economic impact of the pandemic could pull as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty (earning less than $2/day).4https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-05-11/more-than-a-billion-people-escaped-poverty-in-the-last-20-years-the-coronavirus-could-erase-those-gains Even with rapid vaccination—which appears to be a near impossibility in the poorest parts of the world—the impact of both COVID-19 and public response to it will continue to create severe economic and social fallout for years to come.

COVID-19’s indirect effect on children has been no less striking in the United States.5https://cafo.org/2021/04/06/how-has-covid-19-impacted-the-most-vulnerable-children-in-america/ A new study released just last month projected that more than 120,000 American children lost at least one parent or primary caregiver.6https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2021/10/06/peds.2021-053760

As an immense range of studies confirm, children who’ve lost their parents consistently stand among the most vulnerable individuals in their society. Even when a surviving parent or relative is able to care for an orphaned girl or boy, the child faces a dramatically higher statistical likelihood of virtually every ill—from exploitation to poverty to mental illness to homelessness.7https://asclepiusopen.com/clinical-research-in-psychology/volume-3-issue-1/4.pdf

This tragic reality reminds us why Scripture emphasizes so often the call to provide special protection and care for orphans: not only those who’ve lost both parents, but also those who’ve lost one parent—often referred to in the Bible as “the fatherless.”

Of course, COVID-19’s ripple effects upon children weren’t limited to those whose parents died. From deep educational losses and rising obesity to doubled rates of youth anxiety and depression, few children came out unscathed from school closures and other isolation-prompting policies.8https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-education-the-lingering-effects-of-unfinished-learning; https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-childhood-obesity-ef3d426b5580b72f76eb1207be1af24b; https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2782796 For children in the U.S. foster system—many of whom already lacked stability and strong social ties—the effects have been particularly harsh.9https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-pandemic-roiled-the-foste 

Wherever one looks in the world, a remarkably similar reality seems to have played out across vastly differing continents, countries, and communities. Even as child vulnerabilities rose, protections for children diminished. As a study in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect concluded after reviewing an array of both high- and low-income countries worldwide, “Risk factors for children appeared to increase while there were often substantial deficits in CPS responses . . .”10https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0145213421001514

All of this confirms a simple, age-old truth: in any crisis, vulnerable children are most always among the hardest hit. 

An invitation to care for children

That reality, however, is not only a cause for heartbreak. It’s also an invitation. This sorrow that is as old as time also includes a timeless call. As the prophet Isaiah enjoined more than 2,500 years ago, “Defend the cause of the fatherless.” When a person responds to this call, they join God in work he is already about. As expressed in Psalm 68, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. He sets the lonely in families.”  

Faithful followers of Christ are doing this in vibrant ways all over the world. I interact daily with organizations, churches, and families around the world who’ve stepped up dramatically over the past 18 months—both serving locally and supporting work globally. This ranges from churches and nonprofits pioneering new models of virtual foster parent recruiting, training, and support in the U.S. to groups creating compelling new approaches to support for children and families in the thick of the pandemic worldwide.11https://research.cafo.org/care-reform/covid-challenge-grants/ These and countless others are living the call to generosity and service that Christians at their best have modeled amidst crises all throughout history.

How can the rest of us join in, too? Here are three ways anyone can make a difference.

1. Pray. Lift up the most vulnerable children in your community and around the world—orphans, foster youth, and others who lack the protection and care of family. Ask that every hurting child and struggling family will experience God’s tangible love through his people.  

2. Support. Especially in times of crisis, small gifts can go a long way. From ministries engaging local foster care to trusted organizations serving children and families around the globe, you can be a part of work both near and far.

3. Hands-on engagement. As we often say at CAFO, not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but everyone can do something. Help foster, adoptive, and kinship families with meals, babysitting, errands, or other support. Aid and encourage struggling biological families. Serve as a mentor or CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for a foster youth. There are few things more rewarding than getting personally involved.12https://cafo.org/members/?focus=u-s-foster-care; https://cafo.org/member

In any crisis, vulnerable children are among the hardest hit, and the current pandemic is no exception. For Christians, these tragedies around us carry both challenge and opportunity. The local church in every nation has both the calling and the community capable of making a world of difference—restoring broken families, strengthening struggling families, welcoming children into new families whenever needed, and sharing the hope-filled news of the gospel. That’s what Christians at their best have done amidst crises in every era. I’m confident we’ll do it again in this one. 

  • 1
    https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01253-8/fulltext
  • 2
    https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-resilience-ranking/
  • 3
    https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/06/08/covid-19-to-plunge-global-economy-into-worst-recession-since-world-war-ii
  • 4
    https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-05-11/more-than-a-billion-people-escaped-poverty-in-the-last-20-years-the-coronavirus-could-erase-those-gains
  • 5
    https://cafo.org/2021/04/06/how-has-covid-19-impacted-the-most-vulnerable-children-in-america/
  • 6
    https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2021/10/06/peds.2021-053760
  • 7
    https://asclepiusopen.com/clinical-research-in-psychology/volume-3-issue-1/4.pdf
  • 8
    https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-education-the-lingering-effects-of-unfinished-learning; https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-childhood-obesity-ef3d426b5580b72f76eb1207be1af24b; https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2782796
  • 9
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-pandemic-roiled-the-foste
  • 10
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0145213421001514
  • 11
    https://research.cafo.org/care-reform/covid-challenge-grants/
  • 12
    https://cafo.org/members/?focus=u-s-foster-care; https://cafo.org/member
By / Dec 17

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss Southern Baptist Disaster Relief after the tornadoes, Omicron’s arrival to the U.S., and efforts to crackdown on unruly airline passengers. They also discuss the Christmas blues, the U.S. missionaries freed in Haiti, and the bipartisan deal on China’s human rights violations. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Southern Baptists help with tornado aftermath
  2. Biden tours KY tornado damage
  3. Bipartisan deal on China stalls in Senate; ERLC resources
  4. U.S. missionaries freed in Haiti
  5. Flight attendants urge crackdown on unruly passengers
  6. Omicron is coming 

Lunchroom

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • The Dawn of Redeeming Grace // This episode was sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Dawn of Redeeming Grace .Join Sinclair Ferguson as he opens up the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel in these daily devotions for Advent. Each day’s reflection is full of insight and application and will help you to arrive at Christmas Day awed by God’s redeeming grace and refreshed by the hope of God’s promised King. Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com.
  • Outrageous Justice // God calls us to seek justice. But how should Christians respond? Outrageous Justice, a free small-group study from experts at Prison Fellowship, offers Christians a place to start. Explore the criminal justice system through a biblical lens and discover hands-on ways to pursue justice, hope, and restoration in your community. Get your free copy of Outrageous Justice, featuring a study guide, videos, and a companion book today! Visit prisonfellowship.org/outrageous-justice.
By / Dec 10

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss Carson v. Makin at the Supreme Court, the Olympics in China, and Biden confronting Putin over Ukraine. They also talk about biblical justice, friendship and the pro-life movement, and vaccine mandates. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Biden confronts Putin over Ukraine
  2. Carson v. Makin before the Supreme Court; ERLC filed brief
  3. China says US diplomatic boycott violates Olympic spirit
  4. Democrats souring on vaccine mandates

Lunchroom

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • The Dawn of Redeeming Grace // This episode was sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Dawn of Redeeming Grace .Join Sinclair Ferguson as he opens up the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel in these daily devotions for Advent. Each day’s reflection is full of insight and application and will help you to arrive at Christmas Day awed by God’s redeeming grace and refreshed by the hope of God’s promised King. Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com.
  • Outrageous Justice // God calls us to seek justice. But how should Christians respond? Outrageous Justice, a free small-group study from experts at Prison Fellowship, offers Christians a place to start. Explore the criminal justice system through a biblical lens and discover hands-on ways to pursue justice, hope, and restoration in your community. Get your free copy of Outrageous Justice, featuring a study guide, videos, and a companion book today! Visit prisonfellowship.org/outrageous-justice.
By / Nov 19

On Nov. 18, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and Office for Civil Rights (OCR), announced the rescission of waivers issued by the Trump administration that protect the religious freedom and consciences of millions of Americans. Notably, HHS is rescinding waivers given to South Carolina, Texas, and Michigan, including child welfare agencies in those states.

Why does this matter?

This action is deeply troubling for faith-based organizations and people who serve communities in their states according to their religious beliefs. The waivers granted to these states protect the religious freedom of faith-based groups serving vulnerable children. 

We need more organizations serving children in foster care, not less. There are currently 423,997 children in the U.S. foster care system, and that number is likely going to continue to increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its affect on families. At a time when children need safe, permanent, and loving homes, the government should be ensuring that more providers can serve.

One of the states whose waiver is being rescinded by HHS is South Carolina, and this action will impact an organization entitled Miracle HIll.

Miracle Hill Waiver

In 2019 under the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a religious liberty waiver for South Carolina’s faith-based organizations following a request from South Carolina Gov. McMaster. The governor made the request when one such organization, Miracle Hill Ministries, was in danger of losing its funding because of an Obama-era regulation that applied to all HHS grantees. 

For almost 30 years, Miracle Hill served all foster children of any race, nationality, religious belief, sex, disability, or political belief and was responsible for finding good placements for 15% of the over 4,500 children in the South Carolina foster care system. Miracle Hill is clear that its sincerely held religious beliefs are what motivate their work in caring for the needy and vulnerable. They view their foster care services as direct obedience to the biblical directive to care for vulnerable children.

This waiver, based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), granted protections for faith-based organizations in South Carolina and allowed them to continue receiving federal funding without compromising their religious principles and convictions.

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

In June, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia  that faith-based foster care and adoption providers, such as Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia, can continue serving children and families according to their convictions. In the Fulton decision, the court strengthened and clarified the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. 

The basis for the court’s ruling is a clause included in contracts by the City of Philadelphia that give city officials the power to grant certain exemptions. The city government said it has never given out such an exemption and had no intention of providing one to CSS based on their religious beliefs. While the Fulton case set an important precedent for faith-based child welfare providers, there could be lawsuits filed against HHS for this rescission of religious liberty waivers.

Americans have a Constitutional right to religious freedom, and our government must respect the First Amendment and people of faith who serve according to their deeply held religious beliefs.

HHS stated that they would “evaluate religious exemptions and modifications of program requirements on a case-by-case basis.” 

How is the ERLC involved?

Brent Leatherwood, ERLC’s Acting President, stated, 

“These actions not only prevent faith-based child welfare providers from serving vulnerable children in foster care, but they also reveal an animus toward people of faith. Instead of a government that serves the people, these actions show a government willing to target groups for their beliefs. This has the effect of further eroding trust at a time when government institutions can least afford it. Our public square cannot continue to sustain these sorts of reckless and arbitrary changes that are rooted in political ideology, especially those that punish faith-based adoption agencies and religious organizations. Children in need are the ones who end up suffering because of this unending political warfare. That must stop.”

The ERLC is advocating before the administration on behalf of the faith community.  As Leatherwood affirmed, “Every elected official must recognize that religious freedom is a cornerstone of the Constitution. Our government, therefore, has a duty to protect the rights of those who enter the public square with sincerely-held religious beliefs, not assail them. We have communicated our concerns about these moves to the Administration and we will continue advocating on behalf of the faith community on this important matter.”

The ERLC will always promote and defend the human dignity, religious liberty, and conscience rights of all people and religious organizations — within each administration, on Capitol Hill, and throughout the public square. We will continue to work to ensure that vulnerable children in our nation can find safe, permanent, and loving homes.

By / Nov 12

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss inflation’s 30-year high, kids and COVID-19 vaccines, and Veterans Day. They also talk about a religious liberty case before the Supreme Court and the humility of three simple words. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Inflation at its highest in 30 years
  2. Kids getting vaccines; Anti-viral drugs
  3. Veterans Day and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Lunchroom

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • The Dawn of Redeeming Grace // This episode was sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Dawn of Redeeming Grace .Join Sinclair Ferguson as he opens up the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel in these daily devotions for Advent. Each day’s reflection is full of insight and application and will help you to arrive at Christmas Day awed by God’s redeeming grace and refreshed by the hope of God’s promised King. Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com.
  • Outrageous Justice // God calls us to seek justice. But how should Christians respond? Outrageous Justice, a free small-group study from experts at Prison Fellowship, offers Christians a place to start. Explore the criminal justice system through a biblical lens and discover hands-on ways to pursue justice, hope, and restoration in your community. Get your free copy of Outrageous Justice, featuring a study guide, videos, and a companion book today! Visit prisonfellowship.org/outrageous-justice.
By / Nov 5

On Nov. 4, the Biden administration issued a COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). The stated purpose of this rule is “to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers (100 or more employees) from the risk of contracting COVID-19 by strongly encouraging vaccination.” The intent to issue this rule was announced in September by President Biden, but the text of the rule was issued in November.

What is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is under the Department of Labor. Established by President Richard Nixon in 1970, the agency’s mission is “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” OSHA’s jurisdiction covers most private and public sector employers, making the vaccine mandate announcement one of the most wide-reaching to date. 

This is not the first time that OSHA has intervened in the COVID pandemic. In June of this year, they announced a rule requiring healthcare employers to provide protective equipment such as masks and gloves, ensure proper ventilation, and screen patients at risk for COVID. This emergency standard was limited to healthcare employers (because of the group’s high-risk factors), though additional optional measures were disseminated for other industries such as manufacturing, retail, and food supply chains. 

What is the proposed rule?

The rule states that “covered employers must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, with an exception for employers that instead adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or elect to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work in lieu of vaccination.”

In short, the rule requires employers with 100 or more employees to submit their employees to weekly COVID-19 testing and masking requirements, or the employees can opt to receive one of the three vaccines that are approved or authorized for the prevention of COVID-19 in the U.S.: Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.

The OSHA rule will affect approximately 84 million private-sector workers across the country, including some 31 million who are believed to be unvaccinated.

It’s important to note that this rule doesn’t require an employee to receive the vaccine, but if they choose not to be vaccinated, they must undergo testing every week.  

What is the timeframe?

By Jan. 4, 2022 employees who work for employers with 100 or more people must be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing and masking requirements. The rule was published in the federal register on Nov. 5, and it is open for public comments for 30 days. The ERLC will be submitting public comments to OSHA about this issue.

Are there religious exemptions?

There are three exemptions listed in the rule rule:

  1. For whom a vaccine is medically contraindicated;
  2. For whom medical necessity requires a delay in vaccination; or
  3. Who are legally entitled to a reasonable accommodation under federal civil rights laws because they have a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances that conflict with the vaccination requirement.

While there are stated religious liberty exemptions, it is concerning that the ETS requires each covered employer to establish and implement their own written policy regarding religious exemptions. With this rule, each employer is effectively tasked with creating their own policies, and there will be thousands of different policies throughout the country, leading to inconsistent application and confusion. The proposed rule doesn’t offer any guidance for how to structure exemptions for objectors who have sincerely held religious beliefs.

How does this affect SBC entities?

On Nov. 5, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and Asbury Theological Seminary, filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to challenge the OSHA rule. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of SBTS, stated that “it is unacceptable for the government to force religious institutions to become coercive extensions of state power. We have no choice but to push back against this intrusion of the government into matters of conscience and religious conviction.”

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, 

“the lawsuit The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleges that the Biden administration lacks jurisdiction to dictate employment practices to religious institutions, lacks constitutional and statutory authority to issue the employer mandate, and that the mandate failed to meet the required procedural hurdles. In short, the federal government cannot coerce individuals nationwide to undergo medical treatment, and it lacks authority to conscript employers to compel that result.”

Is this the proper role of the government?

This rule raises questions and concerns about limits of government regulation both in terms of public health and safety measures. While governments do have heightened responsibilities during a public health crisis, the state must not use public health emergencies to overstep and exert authority that the Constitution has not entrusted it with.

ERLC’s Acting President, Brent Leatherwood stated:

From the outset of the challenges presented by COVID-19, we have consistently argued that  guidance from elected officials and public health experts is the path to take in lieu of mandates –– particularly as it relates to religious entities. This proposed rule is not that. Some private institutions will raise serious objections to government overreach. The better route for the state to take is providing clear, consistent, and coherent counsel that our fight is against a deadly disease, not one another.

How will the ERLC engage?

The OSHA interim final rule is open for public comments through Dec. 6. As we have done on previous occasions with proposed rules affecting churches and religious organizations, the ERLC will submit public comments expressing concerns with the scope of the regulation on behalf of our convention of churches. 

How should Christians think about this?

The ERLC has emphatically stated since the beginning of this public health challenge that government officials should opt for providing guidance over mandates, while at the same time seeking to uphold the free exercise of religion. Elected officials and local health experts should be actively partnering with pastors and churches to serve local communities as this pandemic rages on.

By / Oct 30

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for a religious exemption to the state of Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers on Oct. 29. The mandate, announced in August by Gov. Janet Mills, required that all healthcare, nursing home, and EMS workers receive their final vaccine dose by Sept. 17, 2021. A group of healthcare professionals at Northern Light Health opposing the vaccine requirement filed suit on religious grounds.

Earlier in October, a federal judge ruled against the challenge and a three judge panel at the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that ruling. At the time of the initial ruling, 97% of the workers at Northern Light Health were fully vaccinated, and 130 workers had already resigned in protest of the state’s mandate order. The Supreme Court initially rejected an emergency request to intervene but left another opportunity for appeal before the order went into full effect on Oct. 29. The healthcare workers then filed that appeal to the Supreme Court, which took up the case on what is called the “shadow docket” –– which, as explained on a previous case, is a “procedure for expedited review of emergency proceedings that fall outside of the normal rhythm of oral arguments and decisions many are accustomed to.”

Why did the court rule against the healthcare workers?

The denial of the application for injunctive relief was handed down in a 6-3 decision. Because the court took this case up via the shadow docket, a traditional written opinion from the majority was not provided with the decision. However, some insight may be gleaned from a concurrence offered by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, joined by Justice Brett Kavanugh. She writes, “applicants could use the emergency docket to force the Court to give a merits preview in cases that it would be unlikely to take—and to do so on a short fuse without benefit of full briefing and oral argument. In my view, this discretionary consideration counsels against a grant of extraordinary relief in this case, which is the first to address the questions presented.” 

In other words, it appears at least some justices among the six voting to deny the application were uncomfortable reviewing this case on an expedited basis and thereby not having the customary information presented to the court.

What makes this case unique?

This case, John Does 1-3 v. Mills, has some similarities to previous cases the justices have rejected, such as the recent appeal from New York City teachers and, prior to that, a challenge from Indiana University staff and students. 

Unlike those cases, though, the Maine requirement does not contain an exemption for religious reasons, though it does for medical reasons. This difference was central to the argument of the dissent authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. 

The dissent states, “This Court has explained that a law is not neutral and generally applicable if it treats ‘any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise.’ Tandon v. Newsom . . . The State allows those invoking medical reasons to avoid the vaccine mandate on the apparent premise that these individuals can take alternative measures (such as the use of protective gear and regular testing) to safeguard their patients and co-workers. But the State refuses to allow those invoking religious reasons to do the very same thing.” 

The justices in the minority contend this should have led the court to apply a strict scrutiny test to the Maine requirement, meaning the state would have to demonstrate the mandate “serves a compelling interest and employs the least restrictive means available for doing so.” Ultimately, a majority of the court did not take this approach and thus denied the application by the healthcare workers. 

What does this mean for religious exemptions?

This result does not mean the challenge by the Maine healthcare workers is over. According to the Wall Street Journal, the decision “means a lower-court order upholding the mandate remains in place while the workers appeal through normal channels.” In all likelihood, additional challenges to other vaccine requirements will continue to materialize in the courts.

As Christians consider these cases, a previous ERLC resource, “Why Christians should navigate questions of vaccine mandates and religious exemptions with wisdom,” produced by Jason Thacker, who leads the Research Institute, is applicable. In this piece, Thacker writes:

Certain faith groups and denominations have claimed religious exemptions based on sincere religious convictions for various medical interventions; have consistently argued over time against the use of vaccines; or may have certain moral objections to the COVID vaccines in particular. Yet, pastors and ministry leaders must be aware that some people may seek a religious exemption to these mandates not out of any direct or meaningful religious objection or issue of faith but out of a desire to disregard the mandates that have been common throughout our nation’s history and frequently upheld by the courts.

According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization that has long advocated for religious freedom throughout our society, “(US) Courts have ruled for over a century that the government may require mandatory vaccines in certain circumstances. Religious objectors may be entitled to accommodations in some circumstances.” ADF also encourages anyone seeking these types of religious accommodations or exemptions from vaccine mandates to seek to determine whether one’s objections actually rise to the level of a religious objection, not simply a medical, social, or political objection. ADF states that “many people have medical or other concerns which do not rise to the level of an actual religious belief. A belief that taking a vaccine is unwise or could be harmful will normally be considered a medical or health objection, not a religious objection.” Defined claims to religious objection must be taken seriously, but claiming a religious objection is no guarantee that public or private entities will recognize it.

As this case and others progress, the ERLC will continue to monitor all developments related to religious liberty and advocate for this first freedom in the courts, on Capitol Hill, and in our culture.

By / Oct 8

In this episode, Lindsay and Brent discuss a new ruling by a federal judge to block the Texas Heartbeat law, the final vote result by the SBC Executive Committee initiating the independent investigation into sexual abuse, a new request for approval on COVID-19 vaccines for children, news about a last-minute agreement on the debt ceiling from Capitol Hill, and beginning of the Atlanta Braves pursuit of a world championship in the Major League Baseball postseason. They also give a rundown of this week’s ERLC content about the parameters God sets for our lives and why they’re good, the Supreme Court cases we’re watching, and our interview with SBC president Ed Litton. Finally, Lindsay and Brent do their best James Bonds impressions.

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. A federal judge blocks SB 8
  2. SBC EC votes to waive attorney-client privilege in sexual abuse investigation
  3. Pfizer and BioNTech seeking FDA emergency use authorization for COVID vaccine for ages 5–11
  4. Nearly 30,000 children were admitted to hospitals with COVID in August
  5.  Agreement to extend the debt limit through early December announced
  6. Baseball playoffs have begun
  7. Facebook: This week’s blackout and The Wall Street Journal report 

Lunchroom

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Mere Evangelism by Randy Newman | | C.S. Lewis was used by God in the conversions of countless people, but evangelism is an extraordinary task to most people. You may feel inadequate, but in this book evangelist Randy Newman skillfully helps us to apply some of the famous methods Lewis used in our own conversations with unbelievers, whatever their attitude towards the Christian faith. 
  • Any Time, Any Place, Any Prayer by Laura Wifler, co-founder of Risen Motherhood | | This beautifully illustrated Bible storybook takes children on a journey from the start of the Bible story to the end. Children will learn a biblical understanding of prayer, why it’s amazing, and that they can enjoy talking with God about anything, anytime, anywhere.