By / Aug 20

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2021 (FY2021). These appropriations bills were packaged together and passed using H.R. 7608 includes Agriculture, Interior and Environment, Military Construction, VA, and State-Foreign Operations. H.R. 7617 includes Commerce, Justice, Science, Department of Defensense, Energy and Water, Financial Services, Labor HHS, and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. The legislative branch appropriations bill has yet to be considered. The Senate has not considered FY2021 appropriations. 

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy, laying out the four corners agreement not to include poison pills or new riders in appropriations bills.

“Throughout the summer of last year, the Administration worked diligently with Congress to finalize a two-year budget agreement that set bipartisan spending limits for defense and non-defense expenditures, work that culminated in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (Public Law 116-37). This agreement included a provision prohibiting poison pills – new riders, changes in mandatory programs, other changes in policy or conventions that allow for higher spending levels, or non-appropriations measures – unless agreed to on a bipartisan basis by the four leaders with the approval of the President. The agreement also included a provision maintaining “[c]urrent transfer funding levels and authorities” unless the four leaders and the President agreed on changes. This compact was absolutely essential to the completion of all 12 appropriations bills in December 2019.”

In 2019, President Trump sent Speaker Pelosi a letter delineating his pro-life position, and actions his administration has taken to support the life of the unborn. He stated that he would “veto any legislation that weakens current pro-life Federal policies and laws, or that encourages the destruction of innocent human life at any stage.”

Southern Baptists affirm the full dignity of every human being and that every life is worthy of protection, beginning with the unborn. We believe life begins at conception, and that abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection. Scripture is clear that every person is made in the image of God and his knowledge of each of us even precedes the creative act of conception (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13). 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 ERLC is committed to conscience protection policies because they uphold two of our most closely held convictions. First, we work to protect the consciences of our neighbors because we believe religious freedom is an inalienable human right, thankfully secured as the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. Second, protecting health-care workers from the coercive power of the profit-seeking, on-demand abortion industry is a pro-life responsibility.

The ERLC opposes appropriations riders that deny religious freedom and conscience protections to millions of Americans. Efforts to codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. Many of the riders discussed below do the same. As Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, often notes, “A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere.”

By / Mar 17

The coronavirus has upended our lives and the uncertainty is unsettling. As the country confronts this new reality, Jeff Pickering visited United States Senator James Lankford in his Washington, D.C. office to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s ongoing response to this rapidly developing situation.

This episode is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of the Oxford Apologetics series. Learn about the titles in this bestselling series here.

Guest Biography

James Lankford is a United States Senator from Oklahoma. After serving four years in the U.S. House of Representatives, James was elected to the U.S. Senate to complete an unexpired term in November 2014 and re-elected to a full six-year senate term in November 2016. Before Congress, James served students and families for more than 20 years in ministry, including 15 years as the Director of Student Ministry for the Baptist Convention of Oklahoma and Director of the Falls Creek Youth Camp. James lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Cindy. They have been married more than 27 years and have two daughters, Hannah and Jordan. He enjoys spending time with his family, working in his yard, and reading.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Oct 9

Last Friday, a sweeping reaffirmation of religious liberty’s significance to America’s constitutional system was unveiled by the Trump administration’s Department of Justice.

Following the release of a May 2017 Executive Order where President Trump directed Attorney General Sessions to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law,” the newly-released guidance offers “20 Key Principles” on how administrative agencies and executive branch departments must protect religious liberty.

The principles in the memorandum represent a return to normalcy.

The principles represent nothing more than a historical reaffirmation of government’s posture toward religious liberty. According to the principles:

  • The freedom of religion is an important, fundamental right, expressly protected by federal law. 

  • The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.
  • The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations. 

  • Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in society or the economy, or interacting with government. 

  • Government may not restrict or compel actions because of the belief they display. 

  • Government may not exclude religious individuals or entities based on their religion.
  • Government may not target religious individuals or entities through discriminatory enforcement of neutral, generally applicable laws. 

  • Government may not officially favor or disfavor particular religious groups. 

  • Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.

An additional set of principles focuses on the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — a federal law under scrutiny by activist groups that mistakenly believe RFRA possesses dangerous latitude.

The above principles are a far cry from theocracy or alleged fears that same-sex couples are systematically banished from accessing a wedding florist. In fact, anyone with a passing familiarity of American civics should see these principles for what they are — a restatement of basic principle. Anyone who sees controversy in these principles is out of step with the Constitution.

As expected, the unveiling of the new principles was met with outcry and protest by progressives. They hailed such guidance as a “license to discriminate” aiming to dismiss religious liberty out of hand. Such rhetoric comes from those unwilling to acknowledge the millions of Americans who conscientiously object to the dogma of the Sexual Revolution, and who object peaceably at that. Hence the stated objective by one LGBT mega-donor, Tim Gill, to “punish the wicked.”

The reaction has become routine: Religious liberty is given focused attention because of sustained attack upon it, and then a parade of horribles theorized by progressive groups is trotted out in order to put bloodshed and discrimination at the foot of religious liberty.

Such hyperventilating reaction, however, does not square with the facts on the ground. Religious liberty is not a ploy to discriminate. To the contrary, religious liberty protects religious citizens from the fear of penalty and discrimination when one religion’s views are not held by either the government or a voting majority. That’s the purpose of religious liberty — to give space to good-faith consciences that do not see the same religious or ethical convictions as majorities do.

The truth is that in the aftermath of these reaffirmed principles, the sky will not fall and the sun will still rise. Why? Because the principles contained in Attorney General Session’s memorandum represent a return to normalcy.

When properly understood, religious liberty applies to all Americans equally. That has not been the case in recent years when the Obama administration went out of its way to undermine religious freedom to further the cause of the Sexual Revolution.

The principles themselves do not give preference or privilege to any one religion. Instead, they represent a good faith attempt to restore the loss of a common culture of religious liberty; a common culture that once saw religious liberty a bipartisan mandate; a common culture that saw religious liberty as a shield against the heavy-handedness of government. 

By / Nov 5

This week, disturbing news out of Palatine, IL, hit national headlines. According to a report from The New York Times, this Chicago suburb’s school district is facing scrutiny by the federal government’s Department of Education for not allowing a self-identified transgender female to have free use of female locker rooms. For those not familiar with this terminology, here’s what’s happening: a biological male, who subjectively identifies as a female, desires unrestricted access to female locker rooms.

While the high school in question offered many accommodations to the student, the government insists that the school is still in violation of federal policy. The school asked that the male student change behind a privacy curtain while in a female locker room in order to safeguard female students who were uncomfortable changing around a biological male, or seeing the male student nude. This very accommodating proposal was not sufficient by government standards. By not allowing the student unrestricted access to the female locker room, the federal government alleges that the school is in violation of federal non-discrimination laws pertaining to sex discrimination. In response, the government is threatening to legally sanction the school district, which could result in the loss of millions of dollars of federal funding.

The events out of Palatine are deeply, deeply troubling from a Christian worldview. There is great cause for concern and vigilance.

First, it shows the extent to which the Sexual Revolution has gained official government support from the current administration. The principles of the Sexual Revolution are incompatible with biblical Christianity. By taking the action it has, the federal government is endorsing a worldview of expressive individualism—a worldview that shuns limits, endorses controversial gender ideology, and opens up society to ever-evolving standards of sexual morality.

Second, the government’s overreach demonstrates the power of the federal government to force compliance—especially on heavily contested categories such as “gender identity,” where no settled consensus exists other than a person’s subjective self-identity. The message by the government is clear: Comply with controversial, radical, and subjective gender theory or face the possibility of withdrawn federal funds. Funding, standards, and legal compliance are the primary mechanisms that the government uses to ensure that policy is uniformly implemented and followed. In this case, the government’s threatening answer to policy and moral difference is to financially cripple a school district. This is gravely wrong and should be rejected.

Third, the action taken by the government sets bad precedent for how the government will handle similar situations if other schools or school districts do not agree with transgender ideology or are not sufficiently accommodating. This top-down approach to federal educational oversight is but another example of government overreach. Local jurisdictions in conversation with parents ought to be empowered to decide for themselves what is or isn’t appropriate conduct and accomodations for students experiencing confusion about their gender. The message of uniformity and consensus by the government falsely assumes that these matters are settled debate, which simply isn’t true. As co-author Denny Burk and I wrote in a 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Resolution, “God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception—a perception which is often influenced by fallen human nature in ways contrary to God’s design.”

Fourth, it demonstrates the abandonment of common sense on two accounts. First, to allow a biological male unrestricted access to a female locker room elevates the subjective experience of one person over the concerns and protests of others. By enforcing their policy of comply-or-else, the government is overlooking the concerns of females who feel uncomfortable dressing around a male and is therefore discriminating against their opinions and values. It makes no sense to allow one individual’s subjective experience to override the legitimate concerns that other women have about a male changing in front of them. Secondly, to predicate federal funding on controversial political debates punishes an entire community’s children who attend these schools. It is an excessive show of force to usher in compliance by undermining the education of others.

Fifth, government action in this situation violates public decency and public safety. There are legitimate reasons that men and women use separate restrooms and dress separately. This has been tacit knowledge up until the last few years, until activists advanced transgender ideology at the expense of biological and biblical reality thereby undermining citizens' rights and dissenting viewpoints. Men and women are different (Gen. 1:27; 2:18; 5:2). This difference manifests itself in biological distinctions. For reasons of modesty, safety, and privacy, men and women should continue to use separate bathroom and dressing facilities. Furthermore, it is not the role of the government to devalue the legitimate opinions of others by forsaking their interests.

Sixth, the action taken by the federal government shows that no school district is safe from having its values thwarted or undermined by federal policy. Parents of children in public schools need to take extra caution about what policies are happening not only on the federal level, but the state and municipal level. Parents would be wise to elect federal and local officials who pledge to restore a measure of commonsense to public schools.

The federal government’s actions in Palatine, Illinois is government overreach at its worst. Citizens who stand for the truth about male and female complementarity, and who want to see these truths reflected in educational policy, should oppose the federal government’s action.