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 / Jun 27

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

The ERLC affirms the full dignity of every human being. At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.” But the Equality Act does not advance the cause of human dignity. 

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

What does this bill mean for religious liberty?

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

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

What does the bill mean for women and girls?

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

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

Are there pro-life concerns in the Equality Act?

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

How has the ERLC been involved?

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

What’s next?

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

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

By / Dec 20

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission knew coming into 2021 that the completely misnamed Equality Act would be a priority for some segments of the culture, and as the year comes to a close, the bill remains a top legislative priority for our organization. 

This legislation represents one of the most significant threats to religious liberty we have ever encountered. If passed, the bill would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs about human dignity and marriage, undermine decades of civil rights protections for women and girls, and substantially harm religious liberty protections in the United States.

We believe it is essential that a solution in the public square be crafted that protects and upholds the dignity of all people, while ensuring that religiously motivated individuals and institutions are free to live and act according to their deeply held convictions. The ERLC opposes this problematic bill and has sought to bring attention to its alarming implications through a variety of means. 

Beginning with our 2021 Public Policy Agenda laying out our policy goals at the federal level, numerous explainers equipping Christians with information about the bill and how it will change our society, and witness testimony on Capitol Hill in March, this has been our consistent focus. 

In February 2021, H.R. 5, the Equality Act, passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 224-206, and in March, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Equality Act. This bill has rightly garnered significant coverage and controversy as it seeks to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code.

Key to the ERLC’s message in opposing the legislation is that America has long been a place where people with different views and beliefs have been able to live at peace with one other. This bill would undermine fundamental protections that allow Americans of good will to disagree with one another without penalizing those with dissenting beliefs.

Interestingly, this sweeping bill was voted on in the House without a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee. The bill first passed the House in the 116th Congress, but did not receive a hearing or floor vote in the Senate under a Republican majority. Currently in the Senate, Leader Schumer (D–N.Y.) used a Senate tool entitled “Rule 14” to be able to bring the bill to the floor at any time, but thus far he has not yet done so. Many analysts believe that the efforts of the ERLC and other conservative peer groups to bring attention to the disturbing aspects of the Act have stalled momentum for the legislation in the short term.

The ERLC is actively engaging lawmakers on the harms of the Equality Act as well as countering attempts to pass components of the bill’s desired policies in other legislation and will remain committed to this advocacy in the year ahead. 

Key Resources on Equality Act 

By / Jun 18

Earlier this week, messengers to the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, voted to adopt nine resolutions, seven of which were related to ERLC concerns, issues, and legislative priorities. Here is a recap of the ERLC-related resolutions:

Baptist Unity and Maintaining Our Public Witness 

This resolution state that the messengers of the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting commit to:

  • Pursue holiness, act with the aim of love, engage others with charity, and consider one another in how we represent ourselves, our churches, our Convention, and, above all, the gospel of Jesus Christ in our speech and conduct at all times and in all places; 
  • Not permit our personal, social, theological, or political interests to supersede the urgency of evangelism and distract us from the task of the gospel’s advancement through the whole world;
  • Exhibit Christ-honoring patience and kindness upon those with whom we disagree;
  • Protect the witness of Jesus Christ before a watching world by wise use of all forms of communication, whether in verbal speech, written word, or social media, so that others may see Christ in us and desire to know Him personally.

On the Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation

This resolution states the messengers:

  • Affirm the sufficiency of Scripture on race and racial reconciliation;
  • Reaffirm agreement with historic, biblically-faithful Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in all forms; 
  • Reject any theory or worldview that finds the ultimate identity of human beings in ethnicity or in any other group dynamic; 
  • Reject any theory or worldview that sees the primary problem of humanity as anything other than sin against God and the ultimate solution as anything other than redemption found only in Christ;
  • Reject any theory or worldview that denies that racism, oppression, or discrimination is rooted, ultimately, in anything other than sin; 
  • Reaffirm the 1995 resolution “On Racial Reconciliation on the 150th Anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention,” which includes, “That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27),” applying this disposition to every instance of racism;  
  • Affirm that our reconciliation in Christ gives us the opportunity and responsibility to pursue reconciliation with others so that we can display and share the hope of the gospel with the world.

On Taxpayer Complicity in Abortion and the Hyde Amendment

This resolution states the messengers:

  • Condemn any effort to repeal the Hyde Amendment as morally abhorrent, a violation of Biblical ethics, contrary to the natural law, and a moral stain on our nation;
  • Call on Congress and the President to uphold the Hyde Amendment and all pro-life Amendments, to protect life, and to prevent taxpayers from being complicit in the moral evil of abortion; 
  • Call on Southern Baptists to work through all available cultural and legislative means to end the moral scourge of abortion as we also seek to love, care for, and minister to women who are victimized by the unjust abortion industry.

On the Equality Act 

This resolution affirms that the messengers:

  • Will extend love and compassion to those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and invite all members of this community to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel; 
  • Will proclaim that Christ offers forgiveness of sin for those who turn from their sins and believe on Christ;
  • Believe effective Gospel ministry to individuals who consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community requires speaking to them and about them with respect and Christlike love, while holding firmly to our biblical convictions on these issues and encourages Southern Baptists to engage discussion of the Equality Act and related issues with this in mind; 
  • Strongly oppose the Equality Act and urge Congress to reject this dangerous legislation, which represents one of the greatest threats to religious liberty in our nation’s history; 
  • Affirm the role of churches in providing compassionate care, biblical truth, and restorative hope to men, women, and children, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, while joyfully celebrating God’s good design in sexuality as clearly expressed in Scripture.

On Abuse and Pastoral Qualifications

This resolution states the messengers:

  • Believe that any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor; 
  • Recommend that all of our affiliated churches apply this standard to all positions of church leadership

On the Uyghur Genocide

This resolution states the messengers:

  • Condemn the actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur people, and that we stand together with these people against the atrocities committed against them; 
  • Call upon the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China to cease its program of genocide against the Uyghur people immediately, restore to them their full God-given rights, and put an end to their captivity and systematic persecution and abuse; 
  • Commend the United States Department of State for designating these actions against the Uyghur people as meeting the standard of “genocide”; 
  • Commend the ERLC for their ongoing advocacy for the Uyghur people and for being among the first major organizations to advocate for their cause; 
  • Strongly urge the United States government to continue to take concrete actions with respect to the People’s Republic of China to bring an end to the genocide of the Uyghur People, and work to secure their humane treatment, immediate release from reeducation camps, and religious freedom; 
  • Implore the United States government to prioritize the admission of Uyghurs to this country as refugees, and provide resources for their support and resettlement;
  • Earnestly pray for the Uyghur people as they suffer under such persecution and pray for the Christian workers and relief workers who bring the Uyghur people physical aid and the message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, so they can experience freedom found only in Christ.

On the Coronavirus Pandemic

This resolution states the messengers: 

  • Mourn the lives lost to this disease, awaiting the day when “Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Addendum: During the meeting, the messengers also voted for the creation of a task force, appointed by the new SBC president, to oversee an independent review of the Executive Committee over allegations of mishandling reports of sexual abuse. 

By / Mar 19

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Equality Act. The ERLC submitted written testimony for the hearing’s official public record opposing the bill.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a controversial bill. The vote was 224-206, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting in favor of the legislation. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) used a Senate rule called “Rule 14” that allows a bill to bypass a Senate committee and be placed directly on the Senate Calendar of Business. This means that, even though the Judiciary Committee held a hearing today, Leader Schumer could bring H.R. 5 to the floor at any point.

What is the Equality Act?

This legislation, filed as H.R. 5, seeks to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. Last Congress, the Equality Act passed in the House, but the bill died in the Senate.

The bill defines “sexual orientation” as homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality, and “gender identity” as the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s sex at birth.

The bill also explicitly states that, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”

What does this bill mean for religious liberty?

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

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

By undermining RFRA, H.R. 5 would force faith-based child welfare organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down by the state. The state-forced closures of such agencies is especially detrimental at a time when multiple crises—including the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing opioid epidemic—have led to increases in the number of children in need of services.

What are the pro-life concerns in the Equality Act?

As ERLC noted in the written testimony to the judiciary committee, the Equality Act would be the most pro-abortion bill ever passed by Congress.

The Equality Act would force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. Central to a Christian’s understanding of government is that government exists to secure rights granted by God. One of these inalienable rights is the freedom of conscience, not to be infringed by the state. H.R. 5 would redefine the term “sex” to also include “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” This language would roll back federal law that protects the consciences of pro-life nurses and physicians who object to participating in abortions because of their deeply held religious or moral beliefs. These conscience protections carry decades of bipartisan consensus—a consensus that no person should be compelled to participate in an act they believe to be gravely immoral.

What happens next with this bill?

The bill currently faces many obstacles to passage in the Senate.

In the Senate, Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican in 2019 to co-sponsor the bill while Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the sole Democrat who was not a co-sponsor. Collins said this past February that she will not co-sponsor the legislation in the U.S. Senate this year. “There were certain provisions of the Equality Act which needed revision,” said Collins. “Unfortunately the commitments that were made to me were not [given] last year.”

Manchin also said in 2019 he would not support the legislation without changes. “I strongly support equality for all people and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. No one should be afraid of losing their job or losing their housing because of their sexual orientation,” said Manchin. “I am not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”

When the bill was introduced in the Senate in 2019, the GOP held the majority (53 seats) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow the bill to be voted on. This year the Senate is evenly divided, with 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and two Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine) who caucus with the Democrats. If the Senate voted on the measure and Collins voted in favor while Manchin opposed, the result would be a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice President Kamala Harris.

But before the bill would even come up for a vote, the bill would have to overcome a filibuster, an attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter. The only formal procedure that Senate rules provide for breaking a filibuster is invoking Rule 22, which requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote. This Senate rule is the reason almost all partisan legislation in the Senate, with a few notable exceptions, requires 60 votes rather than a 51 vote majority.

Key Resources

By / Mar 17

Overview

The Equality Act would curtail religious freedom protections, violate the consciences of pro-life healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately overrule the consciences of millions of Americans. 

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The ERLC is dedicated to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square to protect religious liberty and promote human flourishing. Our vision can be summed up in three words: kingdom, culture, and mission. 

The ERLC exists to help churches understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with the churches and other entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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)

Baptists and Religious Liberty

Baptists have always defended the separation of church and state and liberty of conscience. The Equality Act threatens both of these critical American ideals. The separation of church and state means that the government is not empowered to dictate or suppress doctrine and practice. This benefits all Americans by placing clear boundaries around the state’s authority. This bill would not merely erode but dissolve those boundaries, bringing the full weight of government against religious institutions and individual Americans simply for holding fast to their fundamental beliefs about anthropology and personhood. As Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, has said, “A government in the business of running the church, or claiming the church as a mascot of the state, invariably persecutes and drives out genuine religion.” Similarly, when the government stifles the freedom to dissent, whether from religious doctrine, political ideologies, or views related to human sexuality, it abandons its constitutional duty to protect civil liberties.

John Leland, a Baptist champion of religious liberty, challenged James Madison to ensure that religion and rights of conscience would be protected under the United States Constitution. Madison subsequently introduced the Bill of Rights as amendments to the Constitution, and Baptists have been faithful and ardent supporters of these bulwarks of freedom. Pluralism is a defining feature of our nation, and Baptists have long recognized that neither ideological conformity nor religious coercion are necessary for effective government. Instead, tolerance and persuasion are the instruments of civil discourse. The freedom of expression and robust and vigorous debate are critical elements of American society. The Equality Act would not advance but eradicate these instruments and ideals.

It is difficult to describe how tragic it would be for the Senate to pass a bill that repudiates the moral center of American government. The very premise of the Bill of Rights is that human beings, simply by their nature, enjoy fundamental liberties that the government has an obligation to protect. The Equality Act does more than threaten these freedoms; if enacted, it will contradict them explicitly. No American should ever be forced to compromise his or her religion or violate conscience to avoid punishment at the hands of their government. This legislation would needlessly penalize and discriminate against millions of Americans who possess no animus toward those this bill purports to aid. As law, the Equality Act would undermine pluralism, legalize coercion, imperil religious liberty, eliminate conscience protections, and erode the very freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.

Analysis of H.R. 5

1. If enacted, the Equality Act would bring sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty with devastating effects to this foundational freedom.

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 H.R. 5 is to protect individuals who identify as LGBT, the bill fails to respect people’s freedom of conscience. H.R. 5 erodes foundational constitutional freedoms in its pursuit of fleeting cultural ideas.

H.R. 5 threatens the efforts of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies. The legislation would explicitly curtail the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 which would force faith-based child welfare organizations to either abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down. The state forced closures of such agencies is especially harmful at a time when multiple societal crises increase the need for children services.

H.R. 5 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.

2. The Equality Act would be the most pro-abortion bill ever passed by Congress.

The Equality Act would force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. Central to a Christian’s understanding of government is that government exists to secure rights granted by God. One of these inalienable rights is the freedom of conscience, not to be infringed by the state. H.R. 5 would redefine the term “sex” to also include “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” This language would roll back federal law that protects the consciences of pro-life nurses and physicians who object to participating in abortions because of their deeply held religious or moral beliefs. These conscience protections carry decades of bipartisan consensus—a consensus that no person should be compelled to participate in an act they believe to be gravely immoral. 

H.R. 5 would also jeopardize the longstanding Hyde Amendment that protects federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. There is nothing equalizing about forcing Americans to fund abortion through taxpayer dollars. Preventing taxpayer dollars from abortion protects consciences, saves lives, and respects the freedom of Americans to seek to persuade one another without state-sanctioned conscience intrusion. Every person is made in the image of God, and the United States has a responsibility to reflect that truth in its laws. 

3. H.R. 5 undermines decades of hard fought civil rights protections for women and girls.

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

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

• • • •

In sum, H.R. 5 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 tolerance and civil discourse. If enacted, the Equality Act would bring sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty with devastating effects to this foundational freedom. As Russell Moore often notes, “A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere.”

By / Mar 17

Today, March 17, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on H.R. 5, the Equality Act and the ERLC submitted written testimony for the hearing’s official public record.

This legislation seeks to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) by revising every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. The ERLC has often referred to the Equality Act as misleadingly named because it seeks to achieve its aims by undermining fundamental freedoms of conscience and religious liberty and the biological distinctions of sex. H.R. 5 is out of step with the basic American ideal of tolerance — where neighbors can respect one another and work together toward the common good, even when they disagree. 

Since it was first introduced in the last Congress, the ERLC has actively engaged with lawmakers on the harms this bill would create. We will continue promoting and defending the dignity and religious liberty of all people on Capitol Hill, before the courts, and in the public square. 

Today’s Senate hearing was an important marker in the public debate. Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) hosted a number of witnesses, including the following two that are highlighted in this piece: Mary Rice Hasson, the Kate O’Beirne Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Abigail Shrier, an independent journalist and author. The following are key quotes from the Congressional members and these two witnesses.

For more on this bill and its troubling implications, see this explainer as well as this helpful resource page with articles, podcast episodes, and our policy brief. 

Sen. James Lankford (R–Okla.): No person should be discriminated against in America.

Mary Rice Hasson: Unjust discrimination is always wrong.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa): What will happen to Catholic or Methodist affiliated hospitals which provide excellent service to the public if this bill is enacted? In some areas these facilities may be the only hospitals for miles around. If a faith-based organization has partnered with a community to provide very needed social services that would otherwise not exist, like a soup kitchen, or an adoption agency for the hard to adopt special-need kids, what happens to the people who relied most heavily on those services? To whom do they turn?

Sen. James Lankford (R–OK): For those of us that believe a baby is not just a medical condition, for the people that believe children of any age, or size, or degree of development are worthy of life, we’re not bigots. We’re people who live by our genuine faith and see a child as a child. I believe that we can respect each other, we can have real dialogue over these issues that are complicated and difficult, and we can find a way to be able to pass something that honors every American but doesn’t discriminate against people of faith.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R–Tenn.): Women’s safety is fundamental to the fight for women’s rights. . . . Women should never have to fear for their safety because they’re forced to share spaces with men.

Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO-04): [H.R. 5] threatens to halt federal assistance for students at single sex colleges and universities … and the same applies to sororities and fraternities.

Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO-04): [H.R. 5] … endangers women’s safety in locker rooms, bathrooms, dorm rooms, and homeless shelters.

Abigail Shrier: The great American, Allison Felix, ran the 400 meter in 49.26 seconds. In 2018, nearly 300 high school boys could beat her. So [if H.R. 5 had been law] America would never know the name Allison Felix.

Abigail Shrier: No one who wrote [H.R. 5] appears to consider what it would mean for women and girls. By enshrining gender identity as a protected category, this bill would make it impossible ever to legally distinguish between a woman and a biological male who claims a female identity—for whatever amount of time and for whatever reason or purpose.

Abigail Shrier: Should a female abuse survivor at a domestic violence shelter be forced to sleep and undress next to a biological male? The plain truth is that it is not sensible, not safe and certainly not just to end these hard-won protections for women and girls in the name of equality.

Mary Rice Hasson: Biological sex matters in law, medicine, and for many of us, in the pracitce of our faith.

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] threatens serious harm to religious believers and organizations. It strips away crucial protections provided by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and attacks First Amendment rights as well—tipping the scales against religious believers. 

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] seeks to coerce religious believers to exit the public square unless they’re willing to trade their religious beliefs for today’s reigning ideology.

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] also reaches far beyond Bostock, which pertained to the workplace, by expanding public accommodations to mean wherever Americans gather—even virtually. Churches, synagogues, temples, faith-based schools, soup kitchens, women’s shelters, will be subject to government coercion. Compromise your religious beliefs or risk endless litigation.

Mary Rice Hasson: Religious liberty is not just the right to believe, but freedom of action … We have a robust civil society of people of all faiths, whether they are Muslim or Jewish or Christian or Catholic, that contribute to caring for the most vulnerable because their faith inspires them to do so.

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] by stripping [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] protections, puts the thumb on the scale against people of faith. 

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] tips the scale and says to people of faith “you’re not welcome” … which is unnecessary. We can protect the vulnerable without telling people of faith that there’s no place for them.

Mary Rice Hasson: Any religious, house of worship, faith based charity that abides by restrictions based on biological sex … is going to be subject to a discrimination lawsuit. [H.R. 5] is a complete and radical change for the rights of religious Americans.

Mary Rice Hasson: Anything that a church is doing that is opened up to the public, you are going to have discrimination claims brought [if H.R. 5 becomes law].

What happens next?

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) used a Senate rule called “Rule 14” that allows a bill to bypass a Senate committee and be placed directly on the Senate Calendar of Business. This means that, even though the Judiciary Committee held a hearing today, Leader Schumer could bring H.R. 5 to the floor at any point. As the ERLC works to inform members of the U.S. Senate on the harms of the Equality Act, we will also work against attempts to pass components of the Equality Act in other places.

By / Mar 16

Last month, H.R. 5, the Equality Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 224-206, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting in favor of the legislation. The legislation seeks to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. This sweeping bill was voted on in the House without a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee. The bill first passed the House in the 116th Congress, but did not receive a hearing or floor vote in the Senate under a Republican majority.

For more on this problematic bill and its alarming implications, see this previous explainer from the ERLC staff as well as this helpful resource page with articles, podcast episodes, and our policy brief. 

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.” However, the Equality Act does not advance the cause of human dignity. If passed, the bill would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs about human dignity and marriage and would undermine decades of civil rights protections for women and girls. 

This bill would also substantially undermine religious liberty protections in the United States. America has long been a place where people with different views and beliefs have been able to live at peace with one other. This bill would undermine fundamental protections that allow Americans of good will to disagree with one another without penalizing those with dissenting beliefs.

What will happen next with the Equality Act?

The Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing on the Equality Act this Wednesday. Due to the Democrat’s narrow control of the Senate, it is possible that the Equality Act will be voted out of committee, making it eligible for a vote on the Senate floor. However, under Senate rules, 60 votes are required to overcome the filibuster when the Senate is considering new policy. In its current form, H.R. 5 would likely fall short of this threshold. 

The ERLC is actively engaging lawmakers on this issue. We will continue promoting and defending the dignity and religious liberty of all people on Capitol Hill, before the courts, and in the public square.

H.R. 5 is out of step with basic American ideals. It seeks to end debate on critical issues by using the legal system to crush ideological opponents. Equality cannot be achieved by eliminating fundamental freedoms. 

How else might the Equality Act become law?

The ERLC is closely monitoring efforts by the LGBT lobby to append components of the Equality Act to other legislation under consideration by Congress through the amendment process. This includes spending or appropriations bills as well as legislation that is focused on other aims and objectives.

These efforts would also expand the definition of sex to include gender identity and sexual orientation or create new references to “sexual and gender minorities.” Depending on the context, such language can pave the way for the government to have the power to punish faith-based agencies charged with serving our nation’s most vulnerable children or undermine hard-fought protections for women and girls.

What’s next?

As the ERLC works to inform members of the U.S. Senate on the harms of the Equality Act, we will also combat attempts to pass components of the Equality Act in other places. This week, join us in praying that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will see clearly, perhaps for the first time, the myriad problems the Equality Act would create. 

By / Feb 26

In this episode, Josh, Brent, and Lindsay discuss the SBC’s executive committee meetings, J.D. Greear’s message, COVID-19 milestones, the approval of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, sounds from Mars, and the next generation of USPS mail trucks. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Josh Wester with “The Equality Act: A dangerous law with a clever name,” Michael McAfee with “Celebrating the American Sign Language Bible translation: And praying for more laborers to translate the Scripture,” and Joe Carter with “5 facts about Fred Luter.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Christine Hoover for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Christine

Christine Hoover is a pastor’s wife, mom of three boys, host of the “By Faith” podcast, and author of several books. Her latest offering is With All Your Heart: Living Joyfully Through Allegiance to King Jesus. Previous books include Messy Beautiful Friendship and Searching for Spring. Originally from Texas, she and her family live in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they planted a church in 2008. Find more about Christine on her website https://www.christinehoover.net/. You can connect with her on Twitter @christinehoover.

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Greear decries division and repudiates pharisaical spirit in SBC
  2. Greear, Floyd stare down division; call for focus on Great Commission
  3. SBC EC disfellowshipped four churches
  4. ERLC-focused task force releases report
  5. SBC Executive Committee creates ERLC study task force
  6. 500,000 lives lost ot COVID-19
  7. FDA analysis finds Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine is safe and effective
  8. Pfizer-BioNTech Shot Stops Covid Spread, Israeli Study Shows
  9. Not the mark of the beast: Evangelicals should fight conspiracy theories and welcome the vaccines
  10. Mars rover beams back first ever sounds from Mars
  11. Tiger Woods crash: What we know
  12. USPS unveils next-generation mail truck

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By / Feb 26

On Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a controversial bill titled the Equality Act. This legislation, filed as H.R. 5, seeks to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. (See also: What is the Equality Act? and The Equality Act: A dangerous law with a clever name

The vote was 224-206, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting in favor of the legislation. The Republicans who voted for the act were Brian K. Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko and Tom Reed of New York. 

Last Congress, the Equality Act passed in the House, but did not come up for a vote in the Senate. When the House voted for the bill in 2019, the vote was 236-173, with 23 representatives not voting. Eight Republicans joined every Democrat to vote for passage of the legislation. The eight members of the GOP to vote for the bill were Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Susan Brooks of Indiana, John Katko, Tom Reed, and Elise M. Stefanik of New York, Greg Walden of Oregon, Brian K. Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and William Ballard Hurd of Texas. Fitzpatrick and Katko were also co-sponsors of the bill. 

In the Senate, Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican in 2019 to co-sponsor the bill while Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the sole Democrat who was not a co-sponsor. Collins said this week she will not co-sponsor the legislation in the U.S. Senate this year. “There were certain provisions of the Equality Act which needed revision,” said Collins. “Unfortunately the commitments that were made to me were not [given] last year.” 

Manchin also said in 2019 he would not support the legislation without changes. “I strongly support equality for all people and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. No one should be afraid of losing their job or losing their housing because of their sexual orientation,” said Manchin. “I am not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”

When the bill was introduced in the Senate in 2019, the GOP held the majority (53 seats) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow the bill to be voted on. President Trump was also expected to veto the legislation had it passed. This year the Senate is evenly divided, with 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 2 Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine) who caucus with the Democrats. If the Senate voted on the measure and Collins voted in favor while Manchin opposed, the result would be a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. 

But before the bill would even come up for a vote, the bill would have to overcome a filibuster, an attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter. The only formal procedure that Senate rules provide for breaking a filibuster is invoking Rule 22, which requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote. This Senate rule is the reason almost all partisan legislation in the Senate, with a few notable exceptions, requires 60 votes rather than a 51 vote majority. 

Senate Democrats wanting to stop the filibuster from being used to prevent passage of the Equality Act and other parts of their agenda have two main options. The first is to formally change the text of Senate Rule 22. But that would require support of two-thirds of the Senators present and voting. The second way is sometimes called the “nuclear option”—and more formally as “reform by ruling”—requires only a simple majority. This method was used in 2013 and 2017 to prevent filibusters of presidential nominees, including Supreme Court nominations.

However, this “nuclear option” is currently unlikely because at least two Democratic Senators—Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—oppose ending the filibuster. 

Democrats wanting to pass the Equality Act are likely going to have to wait until after the midterm elections in 2022. Eight Republican senators are running for reelection, while four others have announced they are not seeking reelection. Ten Democratic senators are running for reelection, while no Democratic senators have announced plans for retirement. The Democrats would need to hold on to their ten seats and pick up at least one from the 12 seats currently held by Republicans.