By / Nov 10

When most people hear the phrase “sex-based harassment,” they think of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, assault, and inappropriate comments that are sexual in nature. This definition is derived from guidance released by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) in 1980 and provides legal basis to prevent and rightly prosecute such harassment in the workplace. The EEOC’s definition remained unchanged for 43 years—until this October when the agency proposed new enforcement guidance that raises concerns regarding religious liberty and what the legal protections are for Christians in the workplace to prevent harassment due to religious and moral convictions.

In this enforcement guidance, the EEOC expands the definition of “sex-based harassment” to include two new sub-categories:

  • A redefinition of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, expanded to include abortion and family planning decisions, such as contraceptive usage; and,
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity.

Why is this important?

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Though guidance from the EEOC is not legally binding, this updated guidance is important because it serves as a reference for how the EEOC is claiming the law should be interpreted by the courts, EEOC investigators, and employers. 

Underpinning this new guidance is a common argument: that religion belongs in the privacy of one’s home, not the workplace. For the Southern Baptist, such a statement cannot stand; belief in a holy and just God demands that our lives be reordered in response. Our deeply held religious convictions cannot be relegated to certain corners of our lives, and religious liberty protects not only our freedom to hold those beliefs but also the freedom to express them in the public square.

Requiring employees to regularly bend their knee to the cultural demands of this age infringes upon the EEOC’s own guidance to protect free expression of religion in the workplace.

Why does this updated guidance raise religious liberty concerns?

First, in the newly-proposed guidance, the EEOC specifically refers to “abortion” as a “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.” This may consider pro-life speech and other discussions about an individual’s decision to choose between life or abortion to be workplace harassment.

Second, by including sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected characteristic, the EEOC effectively prohibits sex-segregated spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms. This raises both moral and safety concerns, as women will be disproportionately affected by negative repercussions as a result of this policy.

Third, “religion” is already considered a protected characteristic under existing law. The EEOC has not released any guidance for how the agency plans to navigate potential conflicts between religious belief and other protected characteristics. What happens when an individual is unable to use preferred pronouns due to their moral convictions, or is uncomfortable with a biological male using the women’s restroom?

What has the ERLC done?

On Nov. 1, the ERLC submitted comments in response to this proposed guidance. The ERLC expressed concern with the expanded guidance, citing the theological basis for Southern Baptist beliefs and issuing a call to retain religious liberty in the workplace.

The ERLC made three primary arguments in the comments:

  1. Every human being has inherent dignity, and every life should be protected.
  2. Any attempt to engage in or support “gender transitions” rejects God’s design for human flourishing and harms our neighbor.
  3. The EEOC’s proposed enforcement guidance infringes upon religious freedom and does not provide sufficient clarity on how the agency intends to navigate conflict between the existing legally protected characteristics and the newly expanded definitions provided.

It is impossible to claim to protect both free expression of religion and simultaneously require employees to support “gender transitions” and abortion. It’s likely the proposed enforcement guidance will lead to violations of the consciences of religious individuals by requiring them to affirm factually untrue and deceptive beliefs to the detriment of their conscience and personal safety.

We trust the Lord remains in control in the midst of these types of discouraging regulatory actions. The ERLC is engaged in these processes by working with Congress, responding to rule-making, and seeking other opportunities to express the unique voice of Southern Baptists on these issues. We are prayerfully seeking to glorify the Lord as we diligently work to retain and expand the religious liberties the Southern Baptist Convention has long upheld. We invite Southern Baptists to join us in praying against harmful actions such as this one and for the hope of the gospel to permeate the public square.

By / Mar 16

On Jan. 13, 2023, nine agencies released a proposed rule related to the relationship between faith-based organizations and federal funds. This new rule, ostensibly set up to clarify the current regulations, would, among other things, weaken the protections for faith-based organizations which help to provide social services to those in need. On Tuesday, the ERLC filed public comments in opposition to the change.

What does this rule do?

The proposed rule change would redefine the relationship between faith-based organizations and the federal government in key ways: requiring referrals to secular providers for individuals who disagree with the religion of the faith-based organization, redefining indirect federal financial assistance, not requiring the federal agencies to make accommodations for religious objections, and limiting the Title VII religious exemption only to hiring/firing employees.  

Each of these areas creates an undue burden on the faith-based organizations which apply and seek federal funds to provide services to their communities. For example, the new rule would require that providers give referrals to other services which may not share their religious beliefs if the individual seeking the service disagrees with the faith of the provider.

Similarly, the removal of the requirement for religious accommodation, while still allowing organizations to seek one, opens the door for the administration to deny reasonable accommodations for sincerely held beliefs. Further, the limiting of Title VII to only hiring and firing shrinks the religious liberty protections of these organizations, implying that they do not have the right to carry out their work under the guidance of their faith.

Why is this problematic?

The rule proposal is a revision of existing protections for faith-based organizations at a time when those organizations are more important than ever in providing the social services to families and communities.

As our comments argued, “Faith-based organizations are indispensable service-providers in meeting the needs of America’s most vulnerable populations. Without faith-based organizations, millions of Americans would not receive the critical services they need to thrive and flourish.”

Religious congregations provide 7.6 million volunteers to run 1.5 million social programs in America each year. As just one example, faith-based organizations—working directly in partnership with the U.S. government—are responsible for resettling at least 70% of refugees in the U.S. 

Though the rule does not overtly prevent faith-based organizations from applying, it does create new hurdles for them. Through the referral requirements and the limiting of Title VII protections, this rule opens the door for organizations that receive federal funds, such as faith-based adoption agencies, to not be able to provide services in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Similarly, the rule change no longer requires accommodations for religious exemptions, creating the opportunity for discrimination against religious organizations. A refusal to acknowledge that reasonable, sincerely held religious objections creates a system where any objection to the current administration’s specific view of policy is grounds for rejection of funding. This does not encourage healthy partnerships, but rather unfairly penalizes faith-based organizations because of their religious identity and sincerely held beliefs. 

As Chrstians, we are compelled by our faith to serve our community, but we are equally compelled by our faith to adhere to our religious convictions as we do so. This rule forces faith-based providers to choose between these two deeply held beliefs, places an undue burden on providers who seek to participate in federal programs, and weakens protections for faith-based providers to make employment decisions that are consistent with their beliefs.

How has the ERLC responded?

The ERLC has submitted public comments laying out these concerns with the proposed rule and urging these agencies to reconsider making these changes. Faith-based organizations should not be placed under special burdens because of their religious tenets, and the government should not seek to deny reasonable, good-faith requests for accommodations. The ERLC will continue to monitor these changes and look for additional opportunities to raise our concerns and advocate for the protection of religious liberty.

By / Apr 3

Does Indiana's new bill give religious peoples and establishments the right to discriminate? What does the federal law state? How should Christians view these issues in the political square and between fellow citizens? Lindsay Swartz sits down with Andrew Walker to help clarify these questions and more.