By / Feb 27

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has released its first state public policy agenda, which examines upcoming pieces of state legislation that are noteworthy for Southern Baptists.

The agenda, released Wednesday (Feb. 21), is meant to work in tandem with the ERLC’s annual federal public policy agenda which released last month. The entity provided state policy review in 2023, and this year’s agenda expands those efforts.

ERLC President Brent Leatherwood spoke to the importance of the document amid the current political landscape.

“With dysfunction dominating Washington, more and more consequential decisions are being made at the state level,” Leatherwood said.

“Each year, thousands of proposals that substantially affect the sanctity of life, the advance of religious liberty, the defense of marriage and family, and the protection of human dignity make their way through state legislatures around the country.

“This document, modeled off our federal public policy agenda, is our contribution to these important debates. It has been crafted with the feedback of state ethics leaders from different states and consultations with a number of Baptist state executives. Just as our distinctly Baptist voice makes a difference in Washington, we believe a cooperative Baptist effort like this can help shape policy in the halls of our state capitals.”

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Feb 23

One of the primary ways the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission fulfills its ministry assignment in the public square is through public policy advocacy, both on a federal and on a state level. While the ERLC’s advocacy work in Washington, D.C., remains a vital component of our work, the politically-divided and often lengthy federal processes mean more and more weighty decisions are being made at the state level. As a result, the ERLC recently released our 2024 State Policy Agenda, which outlines state legislation being considered around the country that the ERLC has flagged as items of support or concern in conjunction with our Southern Baptist state conventions and other partners.

These pieces of legislation are best summarized by the four overarching policy priorities determined by the mission of the ERLC: 

  • protecting life, 
  • safeguarding religious liberty, 
  • bolstering marriage and families, 
  • and upholding human dignity.

Below is a short summary of our policy priorities in these areas in the 2024 State Policy Agenda. You can also learn more about each of these items by reading the agenda itself.

Life

As Southern Baptists, we believe that each person is made in the image of God, and thus, is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, level of ability, or stage of development. As a result, the ERLC continues to advocate for life to be protected, both at the beginning and end of life.

Following the Dobbs decision in 2022, the pro-life movement has seen both monumental gains for life in many states and new and concerning challenges to pro-life advocacy begin to emerge. In response, the ERLC continues to encourage the federal government to fulfill its duty to protect human life and combat the evil of abortion in all forms, while also seeking to protect life on a state level. Though attainable pro-life victories will look different across the country, it is important that each state work toward any positive steps it can to save lives. Here are some aspects of our state pro-life legislative priorities:

  • Supporting Abortion Restrictions: Some examples of legislation we are encouraged to see filed this year include Assembly Bill 975 in Wisconsin which would ban abortion at 14 weeks, and the Born Alive Protection Act in Kansas which was filed once again despite being vetoed after passage by the governor in April of 2023. Though we hope to see these states eventually eradicate abortion, we are glad to see steps being taken to save precious preborn lives.
  • Oppose Chemical Abortions: For example, New Hampshire Senate Bill 567 directs the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services to “protect and expand access to” abortion under the deceptive label of “necessary women’s reproductive health” access including, specifically, the abortion drug mifepristone.
  • Promote Pregnancy Resource Centers: Through the ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project and advocacy efforts, we continue to emphasize the excellent help offered by pregnancy resource centers and protect their right to help women choose life by opposing legislation like the Deceptive Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers Act in Illinois that seeks to undermine their work.
  • Oppose Taxpayer Funding for Abortion: Some states, such as Missouri through House Bill 1563, are taking necessary action against the misuse of taxpayer money to fund abortion by prohibiting public funds from being expended to any abortion facility or affiliate.
  • Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide: There is a concerted effort in many states to legalize and expand the practice of physician-assisted suicide. For example, Assembly Bill 781 in Wisconsin and Tennessee House Bill 1710 would both permit a patient to seek physician-assisted suicide from their medical provider.

Religious Liberty

Southern Baptists believe “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” The Baptist Faith and Message outlines the basis for the biblical teaching on religious liberty and freedom of conscience that was passed down to us from our Baptist predecessors, many of whom were imprisoned or executed as they stood for these truths.

Currently, religious liberty protections in the United States remain strong and secure. To ensure that this fundamental freedom is safeguarded, the ERLC continues to advocate for the protection of religious liberty for all people throughout the policy arena. We expect some of the following to be key religious liberty priorities in 2024:

  • Support Religious Freedom Restoration Acts: Three additional state RFRAs that have been filed in Iowa, Nebraska, and Georgia, and we remain hopeful more will follow.
  • Support Conscience Protections for Healthcare Providers: In many states, such as Oklahoma through Senate Bill 1883, Iowa through Senate Study Bill 3006, and Vermont through Health Care Freedom of Conscience Act, states are ensuring healthcare workers are not forced to choose between paving over their consciences and their duty as medical professionals.
  • Protect Conscience Rights for Adoptive and Foster Families: Some states are strengthening vital conscience and religious liberty protections for parents participating in the foster care and adoption systems. For example, Tennessee is considering such legislation with the Tennessee Adoptive and Foster Parent Protection Act
  • Safeguard Religious Expression on Campus: States like West Virginia are protecting religious liberty in higher education through Senate Bill 503, which strengthens free expression of religion protections for student groups on the campuses.

Marriage and Family

Families are the foundational institution of our society. In contrast, shifting views in our culture regarding marriage, gender, sexuality, and family have left our society in disarray. We will continue to advocate for policies that promote availability and accessibility in adoption and foster care, provide wrap-around care for vulnerable mothers and families, and promote the rights and responsibilities of parents in raising their children and pushing back on harmful gender ideology. Our advocacy for marriage and family includes:

  • Support Biblical Marriage: Some states, such as Florida through House Joint Resolution 167, allow residents to vote on repealing part of the state constitution that defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman.
  • Oppose the Surrogacy Industry: Virginia, through House Bill 110, is considering repealing existing Virginia law prohibiting the practice of paid surrogacy within the state.
  • Safeguard Children from Harmful Gender Ideology: Many states have already taken action to ban “gender transitions” from being performed on children, including Texas through the passage of Senate Bill 14, which took effect in September 2023. Two additional pieces of legislation being considered this year are the Child Protection Act in Georgia and the Children Deserve Help Not Harm Act in South Carolina.
  • Protect Women in Sports: Virginia is pushing back against the influx of biological men infiltrating women’s sports as a result of harmful gender ideology through the Women’s Sports Bill.
  • Protect Children from Pornography: Last year, some states, including North Carolina and Utah, enacted age verification requirements to prevent minors from accessing pornography. This resulted in sites like PornHub completely removing access to this content in the state. This year, several other states are including similar legislation, such as West Virginia House Bill 4867 and Indiana Senate Bill 17.
  • Help Families Flourish: Some proposals, such as Senate Bill 171 in Illinois, help parents to care for their children by making items like diapers, baby wipes, and infant formulas tax exempt. Other states, such as Kansas through House Bill 2429, are establishing “alternatives to abortion programs” that promote childbirth, provide adoption assistance, and support pregnancy support centers and maternity homes.

Human Dignity

Every person is made in the image of God and is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, race, nationality, level of ability, or stage of development. The Bible calls us to seek justice and righteousness, especially for the vulnerable. As we advocate for fair and impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the oppressed, we bear witness to a God who is ultimately the just Judge and to a gospel that saves all who believe. These realities spur on our commitment to the following priorities:

  • Oppose Expansion of Substance Abuse and Addiction: Though the federal government has been actively working to decriminalize marijuana, it remains highly addictive and increasingly accessible. Some states, such as Virginia through House Bill 698 and Kansas through Senate Bill 135, are seeking to legalize marijuana or medical cannabis sales within their state.
  • Combat the Predatory Lending Industry: Some states, such as Washington through House Bill 1918 and South Carolina through Senate Bill 67, are pushing back against predatory lending practices by capping the interest rate on a payday loan at 36%.
  • Opposition to Gambling: Through legislation like Senate Bill 1434 in Oklahoma, Senate Bill 386 in Georgia, and legislation we are anticipating being filed in Alabama, several states are considering expansions this year to gambling in their state. 
  • Supporting Criminal Justice Reform: Some states, such as Florida through the “Air Conditioning in Inmate Housing” bill, are considering legislation that would respect the dignity of those in prison and their safety by requiring air conditioning units in good working order to be available for all housing units. Other states, such as Arizona through House Bill 2047, would create a transition program through partnerships with local nonprofits to help perpetrators of nonviolent crimes assimilate into the local community after serving their sentence.
  • Ending the Epidemic of Mass Shootings and Gun Violence: Tennessee, is taking a multi-front approach to the epidemic. For example, House Bill 1640 and House Bill 2101 ensure court records noting an individual’s mental health and likelihood to cause harm are added to the background check system. Additionally, Senate Bill 2342 makes it a criminal act to threaten mass violence, and House Bill 1625 creates a “duty to warn” if an actual threat of bodily harm is detected. 
  • Stopping Sexual Abuse: Reforms such as Senate Bill 5280 in Washington and Senate Bill 87 in Kansas would expand requirements for clergy and ministers to report the abuse or neglect of children. Missouri is also considering two proposals, House Bill 1741 and House Bill 1868, that provide greater protections to nonprofits that share credible abuse allegations with other nonprofits and expand protections for victims who wish to provide testimony through video.
By / Feb 21

The 2024 State Policy Agenda is not an exhaustive list of every policy priority, but rather, serves as a guide to equip Southern Baptists and lawmakers. It provides examples embodying good policy that captures the concerns of Southern Baptists regarding the current debates happening at the state level. We examine these policies to chart a hopeful vision for public policy that will help individuals and communities thrive.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission assists Southern Baptist Convention churches by communicating and advocating for our moral and ethical concerns in the public arena. This “public arena” includes the vital work being done at both the federal and state levels, where we partner with other advocacy groups and our state conventions to address matters of concern to Southern Baptists.

Download the 2024 State Policy Agenda

While our advocacy work in Washington, D.C., remains a vital component of effective policy, the politically divided and often lengthy federal processes have resulted in weighty decisions being made at the state level. Just as the ERLC advocates for life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity at the national level, many of these same issues are currently being considered by state legislatures. Some of these include:

  • gambling,
  • conscience protections for medical professionals,
  • prohibitions on “gender transition” procedures and prescriptions for children,
  • opposing mail-order abortion pills that put both babies and mothers at risk,
  • restricting predatory lending,
  • and more.

Effective state-level engagement has been displayed following the historic 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision which overturned Roe v. Wade and freed up state and federal legislators to act against the horror of abortion. While we still advocate and pray for Congress to pass a permanent federal prohibition of abortion, the pro-life movement has adapted to fill in the gap of federal policy work by encouraging states to pass legislation that protects as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible. As of Jan. 8, 2024, 21 states have restricted or prohibited access to abortion. Alongside our fellow Southern Baptists, we pray that the number of states will grow as we diligently work toward that goal.

We are also encouraged by the proliferation of pro-family and pro-life policies being proposed and passed in many states. These policies—from creating tax exemptions for diapers and baby formula to supporting pregnancy resource centers—protect and safeguard children and mothers targeted by the abortion industry, thereby enabling parents to choose life and undermining lies perpetuated by the abortion industry.

With many state legislative sessions already underway, the ERLC has identified key state legislation that overlaps with Southern Baptist priorities of which we want government leaders, elected officials, Southern Baptist Convention affiliates, and partners in our state work to be aware.

In releasing the first State Policy Agenda, we invite you to join us in envisioning a world where abortion is unthinkable, where religious liberty is celebrated, where human beings are valued as made in God’s image, and where Southern Baptists clearly see the Lord being glorified through their state government. For any of these proposals, we encourage interested readers to engage with their Baptist state convention and local lawmakers, whose teams will have the latest information about developments related to these bills.

Download the 2024 State Policy Agenda

By / Feb 9

Here are 5 ways you can engage in politics taken from The Nations Belong to God: A Christian Guide to Political Engagement.

First, individuals should know their country’s governing documents. You would be shocked to learn how many citizens do not even know what their country’s governing documents say. Civic literacy is an absolute essential.

Second, individuals need to know who their governing officials are at every level. Most individuals cannot even name their local city officials, their state representative, or their state senator. It’s far more likely that individuals know who their federal officials are before they’re aware of their local officials.

Third, think globally, act locally. Before you think you can change the world, focus on cultivating a love and awareness of what is local to you. Instead of thinking, “The United States needs to change,” ask, “How can I help bring attention to an issue in my city or my county?”

Fourth, stay informed. In my experience, most people can tell you who their favorite athlete is or when the latest blockbuster movie is going to come out, but they cannot tell you what’s going on politically. Individuals need to be informed by reading a wide array of news sources and avoiding the tendency in our age to only read one particular news source. Additionally, Christians should get their news from a wide array of sources rather than from social media feeds alone, which tend to incentivize partisanship and extremism

Fifth, be immune to political hype. If individuals do not have a grasp of history, they can easily believe that our moment is unlike any other period in history and fall prey to over-zealous commentators who prey on fear and outrage. When someone says, “This is the most important election of our lifetime,” you should quickly realize that individuals say this about every election. That is not to relativize the importance of some elections over others (some elections do matter more!), but only to encourage you from getting caught in the moment’s frenzy.

A famous quote attributed to the theologian Karl Barth is good advice on how to begin your day: “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

What might Christian political engagement look like, especially in a presidential election year? Download “The Nations Belong to God: A Christian Guide to Political Engagement” to find help and hope as you seek to bring the gospel to your community.

By / Feb 6

A long-awaited bipartisan border proposal has arrived for consideration in the U.S. Senate this week. After months of negotiations, Sens. James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) released the text of their proposal that would bring about significant changes to the United States border and asylum system, while being paired with the national security supplemental funding bill for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and the southern border. As the legislative text was finalized over the last several weeks, it has been backed by Senate leadership of both parties as well as President Biden. But, upon release, the proposal is facing sharp criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

Southern Baptists have spoken to the issue of immigration for decades, calling on Congress to secure our borders while upholding principles of compassion and human dignity. 

What is included in this bipartisan border bill?

This sweeping bill contains a number of significant provisions as it relates to border and asylum policy as well as avenues for legal migration. Some of these provisions include:

  • Funding for detention: Many migrants are not currently detained, but rather paroled into the U.S., because of a lack of space in detention facilities. This bill provides $7.6 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), $3.2 billion of which is dedicated to increasing detention capacity.
  • Funding for border patrol: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) face incredible staffing shortages and do not have the current resources to process and screen all who are arriving at the border. This bill provides $6.766 billion to CBP, giving them the ability to hire additional agents, improve technology for finding fentanyl, and to address trafficking-related issues.
  • Major changes to the asylum system: Current U.S. law guarantees a right to seek asylum for individuals who step foot on U.S. soil. Because of that, many individuals who do not have valid asylum claims have flooded the asylum system, seeing it as their only viable option to enter the U.S. Unfortunately, because of backlogs, many of these individuals are in the U.S. for many years before their asylum claims are eventually denied.  This proposal speeds up the adjudication process while also requiring a higher burden of proof in initial asylum screenings—a policy long sought by advocates seeking to curtail illegal immigration. Additionally, with faster adjudication of claims, the bill provides guidance for carrying out quicker expulsion and deportation for those who do not qualify. One change, flagged by critics, includes work permits for many who apply for asylum and HHS-provided lawyers for unaccompanied children under 14 to navigate this process.
  • New “border shutdown” authority: One of the most significant and most misunderstood portions of the bill would create a new border emergency authority. As described in the authors’ summary, “The ‘border emergency authority’ may be exercised if the 7-day average number of cumulative encounters of inadmissible aliens is between 4,000 and 5,000 per day and must be exercised if the 7-day average is above 5,000 per day. Exercise of the authority is also required if the number of encounters on a single day exceeds 8,500. Unaccompanied minors from non-contiguous countries are not included in the total number of encounters for the purposes of this section. When use of the emergency authority is authorized, the Secretary has the authority to prohibit the entry into the U.S. of all individuals, except unaccompanied minors, between ports of entry and may only screen individua ls for eligibility for withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture. Concurrently, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is required to continue processing a minimum of 1,400 inadmissible aliens per day across southwest land ports of entry under expedited removal or the 235B non-custodial removal proceedings contained in this title, ensuring that access to the asylum system remains available.”
  • Border wall: This bill would require the Biden administration to continue construction of the border wall with Mexico. While the policy was most prominent during former President Trump’s administration, initial construction of various portions of a border fence began under former President George H. W. Bush.
  • Anti-fentanyl measures: In addition to funding for new fentanyl screening technology, the bill also includes policies aimed at curbing the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. It also provides funding to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to aggressively target cartels involved in smuggling fentanyl. 
  • Afghan Adjustment Act: In 2021, the U.S. assisted many Afghans, including many of our military allies, in fleeing to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Since then, these individuals have been in the country without any pathway to a permanent status. The bill includes the Afghan Adjustment Act which would provide such a pathway following additional screening.
  • Additional visas: The bill authorizes an additional 250,000 immigrant visas over the next five years divided between those coming for employment-based reasons and those seeking to reunify with family. 

In addition to these immigration-related provisions, the bill includes funding for assistance to Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region, and to restoring U.S. military readiness. 

If you’d like more details about the contents of this bill, you can read a full summary here.

Why is this significant?

The current situation at the southern border is untenable. In December of 2023, there were over 300,000 individuals encountered at the border, the highest number ever recorded. This flow of migrants is overwhelming the American resources at the border to process, screen, detain, and care for those who are arriving. As our ERLC team observed when we visited the border in 2022, U.S. border patrol officers are desperately in need of additional resources and help.

Compared to current levels, these proposed reforms would provide meaningful assistance to border patrol and those tasked with securing our border while making changes that could significantly reduce the number of migrants who initially qualify for asylum. Along with increased detention capacity and faster adjudication, these changes could make progress toward ending so-called “catch and release.” Senator Lankford termed the new policies “detain and deport.”

Additionally, though the president does have substantial authority in deciding border-related policies, that power is limited by existing law that guarantees those who arrive on U.S. soil the right to request asylum. The proposed changes to asylum coupled with the new “border shutdown” authority could provide the executive branch with increased powers to severely limit the number of individuals accepted into the U.S., particularly at times when border resources are overwhelmed. 

No significant updates have been made to the U.S. immigration system or border security laws since the 1980s. When compared to current law, these proposals would mark a meaningful shift in U.S. policy and provide new power to the executive branch.

How does this compare to what Southern Baptists have said about immigration?

At the 2023 Annual Meeting, Southern Baptists passed a resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration.” This resolution followed many others passed by Southern Baptists over the past decades. Relevant parts of the most recent resolution read:

RESOLVED, That we ask our government leaders to provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers regarding border policies, legal entry into this country, and work opportunities; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to maintain robust avenues for valid asylum claimants seeking refuge and to create legal pathways to permanent status for immigrants who are in our communities by no fault of their own, prioritizing the unity of families; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage elected officials to prioritize measures that secure our borders and to provide adequate resources to border patrol and those working in our immigration system; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge our government to take swift and bold action to protect and prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving to the United States; and be it further

Southern Baptist Resolution ‘On Wisely Engaging Immigration’

On many of these counts, this legislation is in line with these requests. This proposal would offer clearer guidance to those coming to the border, laying out new policies regarding work authorizations and vowing quick expulsion for those without valid asylum claims. Though some may disagree about the efficacy of various measures in securing the border, this is certainly a step forward from the current chaos (though some feel it does not enhance security measures enough). In addition to providing resources and policy changes that would make the border more secure, the proposal retains key narrow avenues for those with valid asylum claims to make their case. In nearly all changes within the bill, special care and attention is given to the unique situation of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Though the bill does provide some new legal avenues for those who would come to the U.S. and includes a pathway to permanent status for Afghans who were brought to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan, a measure that the ERLC has long advocated for, it does not provide any path forward for the broader undocumented population or for Dreamers, the young immigrants brought here as children. Some opponents of the proposal have called it a blanket amnesty plan, though no such provisions exist.

What happens next for this bipartisan border proposal?

Members of both parties have pushed back on this proposal. Three Democratic Senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, immediately signaled their disapproval of the bill. House Republican leaders released a statement saying consideration of the proposal would be a “waste of time” in their chamber. Support quickly faded from several Senate Republicans as well. While some don’t believe that the bill is strong enough on border security, others argue against addressing the issue of the southern border in an election year.

At this point, the path forward looks highly tenuous for this proposal though attempts to amend it could be made in the legislative process. Currently, the Senate is expected to take an initial procedural vote on the bill on Wednesday. If the supplemental is unable to move forward, it raises the important question of what happens next in regards to defense funding for Ukraine, Israel, the Pacific, and the border. It should be noted funding deadlines for the government are set for March. 

Setting aside the uncertain path forward for the proposal, we are thankful for the hard work of Senator Lankford, a Southern Baptist, as well as Sens. Murphy and Sinema. Finding bipartisan consensus on an issue as fraught as immigration is no easy task, and initial responses prove as much. These Senators have put forth a serious proposal for an urgent problem. As our nation grapples with many challenging matters, including this one, we need more lawmakers willing to do the difficult work of legislating.

By / Jan 31

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has joined several pro-life organizations and advocates in calling on Congress to pass an expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which they believe will benefit low-income families and children.

This proposed expansion is part of a larger tax bill, known as the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R. 7024), which aims to increase access to the CTC for lower-earning families.

The bipartisan tax package passed the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means committee (the House’s chief tax-writing committee), on Friday, Jan. 19, with a vote of 40-3. It is expected to receive a vote on the House floor in the coming days.

The ERLC, along with other pro-life partners, signed a Jan. 29 letter urging Congressional leaders to pass this expansion to the CTC.

“The ERLC was proud to join many of our pro-life partners in calling on Congress to take this modest, but significant, step toward policy that wraps around vulnerable families,” said Hannah Daniel, ERLC public policy director.

The letter points to the growing cost of raising children as a need for the legislation.

“As pro-life organizations, we support making sure mothers, fathers and their children have every tool and resource available to choose life and support families,” the letter states. “American families face unprecedented challenges with higher costs of the most essential items for families such as food, gas, energy, health care, and housing.

“H.R. 7024 improves the CTC to better serve all families in need by adjusting the CTC for inflation so that they receive tax relief. This means as the costs of having a family increase, so will the resources moms and dads have to make ends meet and provide for their kids.

“The legislation would also stop penalizing parents for having more than one child by treating all children equally. This is not only fair for families no matter their size but also ensures support for growing families. … H.R. 7024 provides commonsense protection for families and supports growing families at a time when the cost of raising children continues to increase.”

The letter is addressed to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (a Southern Baptist and former ERLC trustee), U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Other pro-life organizations and advocates to sign the letter include Concerned Women for America, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, radio host Eric Metaxas, National Association of Evangelicals and Americans United for Life.

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Jan 26

Public policy advocacy is one of the primary ways that the ERLC fulfills its ministry in the public square. We recently released our 2024 Public Policy Agenda, which outlines more than three dozen policy issues that will shape our work in Washington, D.C., this year.

The first session of the 118th Congress proved to be wildly unproductive and crippled by intraparty fighting, culminating in the historic ouster of a speaker of the House. Congress left 2023 without funding the government and with little progress made on dozens of priorities. It is in the midst of this dysfunction and division that we must find a way to press forward on priorities relevant to the mission of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission: 

  • protecting life, 
  • safeguarding religious liberty, 
  • bolstering marriage and families, 
  • and upholding human dignity. 

Below is an overview of our policy priorities in these areas. You can learn more about each of these items in the agenda itself.

Life

As Southern Baptists, we believe that every person is made in the image of God, and thus, is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, level of ability, or stage of development. Because of that, the ERLC will always advocate for life to be protected. Following the Dobbs decision in 2022, we’ve seen both monumental gains for life in many states and new challenges emerge. We must persuade our lawmakers that the federal government still has an important role to play in protecting life and combatting this evil in all forms. Here are some aspects of our federal pro-life legislative priorities:

  • Protect Pro-life Riders in the Congressional Appropriations Process: Longstanding policy riders such as the Hyde Amendment are essential aspects of preventing taxpayer funding for abortion
  • Ending the Proliferation of Chemical Abortions: Chemical abortions make up a majority of all abortions and not only take the life of a preborn child, but also pose significant risks to women.  
  • Respond to the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA decision: This summer, the Supreme Court will decide whether significant restrictions on the chemical abortion drug, mifepristone, must be reinstated.
  • Oppose the Women’s Health Protection Act: This act would allow for abortion on demand nationwide, strip away conscience protections, and allow for taxpayer funding for abortion.
  • Support the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act: This bill would codify the protections found in the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life funding riders.
  • Support the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act: This bill provides basic protections for precious children who survive an abortion attempt.
  • Support Federal Abortion Restrictions: Though the Dobbs decision gave power back to the states on the issue of abortion, it did not absolve Congress of its responsibility to protect life in the womb.
  • Oppose “Abortion Tourism”: Since the Dobbs decision, the Biden administration has worked to promote and mandate the right for women to travel to receive an abortion in another state.
  • Expand Hyde Protections to Prohibit Taxpayer-Funded Abortion Travel: Many of the aforementioned actions have circumvented Hyde-Amendment protections to require taxpayer funding for such abortion-related travel.
  • Oppose the Biden Administration’s Pro-Abortion Regulatory Agenda: In the absence of congressional action, the Biden administration has used its regulatory powers to promote and expand access to abortion in all contexts.
  • Support the Work of Pregnancy Resource Centers: Pregnancy resource centers are on the front line of the pro-life movement and have faced increasing attacks regarding their funding and perceived legitimacy.
  • Strengthen International Pro-Life Work: Organizations like the United Nations and other international bodies continue to press for an “international right to abortion” and seek to use international aid funding to promote abortion.
  • Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide and all Euthanasia Efforts: Across the United States, there is an effort to expand the availability of physician-assisted suicide under the guise of “compassionate healthcare.”

Religious Liberty

A bedrock of Baptist belief is that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” The Baptist Faith & Message continues in stating that “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” Our Baptist ancestors in the U.S. were instrumental in the crafting and adoption of the First Amendment to our Constitution, which guarantees free exercise of religion for all and forbids the establishment of a state-driven religion. The ERLC will continue this legacy in our moral education and in our advocacy. We expect some of the following to be issues of particular concern in 2024:

  • Oppose The Equality Act: This act would codify sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as protected classes in federal civil rights law and is the greatest threat to religious liberty ever considered in the U.S. Congress. 
  • Oppose attacks on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Recent legislation from both parties has explicitly removed vital religious liberty protections guaranteed by law in RFRA.
  • Support the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act: This bill would prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their beliefs and ultimately protect children in the foster system and children waiting for adoption by ensuring that a wide range of child welfare providers are available to serve them.
  • Support the Conscience Protection Act: This bill provides conscience protections for healthcare workers with religious and moral convictions that prohibit them from participating in activities that go against their pro-life beliefs.
  • Oppose the Biden Administration’s Regulatory Actions: The Biden administration has extensively used its regulatory powers to curtail religious liberty and conscience protections, especially as they intersect with sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
  • Support the Safeguarding Charity Act: This bill would protect the religious liberty of faith-based organizations by clearly stating that simply holding tax-exempt status does not equate to receiving federal financial assistance.
  • Support a Two-year Universal Charitable Deduction to Encourage Giving to Charities: Under the federal tax code, people can only claim a deduction for charitable contributions if they itemize their deductions, but a universal charitable deduction would incentivize such giving from all taxpayers. 
  • Combat Global Antisemitism: Following the horrific attack on Israel on Oct. 7, there has been a significant rise in antisemitism both domestically and abroad, with alarming tolerance for antisemitic rhetoric and actions on college campuses across the country and at many of our global institutions, such as the United Nations
  • Support Protections for the Uyghur People in China: Though national attention has shifted elsewhere, the Uyghur people continue to face a genocide, and more must be done to prioritize this issue in U.S. foreign policy with China.
  • Advocate for the Elimination of Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws: Dozens of countries still enforce these laws—often through the death penalty—prohibiting one from converting to another religion or speaking or acting in any way that is deemed offensive to the god of their particular religion.
  • Support the Designation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern: Despite intense persecution of Christians, the U.S. State Department has ignored the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for religious freedom for three consecutive years.

Marriage & Family

We believe that families are the foundational institution of our society. However, shifting views in our culture regarding marriage, gender, sexuality, and family have left our society in disarray. We will continue to advocate for policies that promote availability and accessibility in adoption and foster care; provide wrap-around care for vulnerable mothers and families; and promote the rights and responsibilities of parents in raising their children and pushing back on harmful gender ideology. Some aspects of our advocacy for marriage and family include:

  • Support Adoption and Foster Care Policies: In addition to pushing back on the alarming religious liberty trends discussed above in the adoption and foster care systems, we are advocating for policies that would support and strengthen adoption, making it more affordable and accessible
  • Support the Adoptee Citizenship Act: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the U.S. who had at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen, but it only applied to adoptees under the age of 18 when the bill was enacted, leaving an entire population of adopted children without full U.S. citizenship. This bill closes that loophole. 
  • Ensure Intercountry Adoption Remains a Viable Option: Amidst significant declines in international adoptions, the ERLC is working with like-minded partners and the U.S. Department of State to ensure that intercountry adoption remains a viable option for families and vulnerable children around the world.
  • Support Pro-Family Policy in a Post-Roe World: The ERLC will advocate for policies that remedy marriage penalties, empower abortion-vulnerable women to choose life, and provide baseline levels of support for new parents. 
  • Oppose Harmful “Gender-Transition” Surgeries and Procedures: Going against both God’s good design and sound medical practice, “gender-transition” procedures are preying on vulnerable minors and should be outlawed. 
  • Oppose Taxpayer Funding for “Gender-Transition” Surgeries and Procedures: It is unconscionable that taxpayer dollars continue to be used to fund “gender-transition” surgeries and procedures that harm those experiencing gender dysphoria and that millions of Americans find objectionable. 
  • Support Parental Rights: Recent years have seen increased challenges to the fundamental rights and responsibilities of parents in areas of education, online access, and matters of gender and sexuality, and the ERLC will continue to support the rights of parents in both legislation and the courts.
  • Support Protections for Children Online: New data has demonstrated the detrimental effects on mental health, learning, and self-image that have come as a result from unhindered access for minors without the knowledge and consent of parents. More must be done to prevent children from accessing harmful content, such as pornography, and to empower parents in overseeing the online activity of their children.
  • Oppose Marijuana Expansion: The ERLC will continue to oppose various efforts to expand the availability and legality of marijuana in our communities, understanding the devastating impacts it has on many families.

Human Dignity

We believe that every person is made in the image of God and is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, race, nationality, level of ability, or stage of development. The Bible also calls us to seek justice and righteousness, especially for those who are vulnerable. In our advocacy for fair and impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the unjustly oppressed and marginalized, we bear witness to a God who is ultimately the just Judge and to a gospel that saves all who believe without partiality. These realities spur on our commitment to the following priorities for this year:

  • Support a Permanent Solution for Dreamers: With litigation on its way to the Supreme Court that will likely end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, these young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents remain in an unstable situation without action from Congress.
  • Rebuild the Refugee Resettlement Program: Though progress has been made in rebuilding infrastructure, we will continue to advocate for fully restoring the refugee resettlement program and America’s legacy as a beacon of hope to those fleeing persecution.
  • Support the Afghan Adjustment Act:  This bill provides a path to permanent legal status after additional vetting for Afghans who were brought to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan and who remain in limbo.
  • Support Border Security Enhancements and Asylum Reforms: At the 2023 annual meeting, Southern Baptists called on lawmakers to “provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers,” “maintain robust avenues for valid asylum claimants seeking refuge,” and “prioritize measures that secure our borders and to provide adequate resources to border patrol and those working in our immigration system.” 
  • Support Further Criminal Justice Reform: The ERLC will continue to advocate for reforms that focus on fairness, safety, rehabilitation, and recognize the dignity of those in prison, including provisions requiring that only biological females may be housed together.
  • Combat the Epidemic of Mass Shootings and Gun Violence: In 2018, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention gave support for “preventative measures that would reduce gun violence and mass shootings while operating in accordance with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.” In 2022, messengers urged lawmakers “to take concrete steps, towards solutions that uphold the dignity and value of every human life, especially the most vulnerable among us, and to minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society.”
  • Support Payday Lending Regulations: Short-term payday loans often come with deceptive and predatory annual interest rates of over 400%, trapping the poor in a vicious cycle of debt and despair. 
  • Oppose Efforts to Expand Gambling: Even as millions are trapped in the addictive and destructive cycle of gambling, efforts are underway at both the state and federal levels to expand gambling, particularly through sports betting. 
  • Advocate for Anti-Human Trafficking Laws: The ERLC will continue to advocate for anti-human trafficking legislation in Congress—particularly legislation aimed at supporting trafficking victims and increasing the responsibility of companies to remove this explicit content from their platforms. 
  • Support Efforts to Shape Artificial Intelligence and Technology that Emphasize Human Dignity: In 2023, Southern Baptists called on lawmakers to “proactively engage and shape these emerging technologies rather than simply respond to the challenges of AI and other emerging technologies after they have already affected our churches and communities.” The ERLC will continue to assist lawmakers in understanding these realities and advocate for policies in line with this call of human dignity and the common good.
By / Jan 25

Welcome to the ERLC Podcast where our goal is to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues. Today, we’re focusing on the ERLC’s 2024 Public Policy Agenda.

The mission entrusted to the ERLC by the Southern Baptist Convention includes applying Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy and promoting religious liberty. One of the ways we do this is through our public policy advocacy, both in Washington, D.C., and throughout individual states. 

Every year, we compile and release a public policy agenda, highlighting the key pieces of federal legislation our staff is watching and working on within our four categories of priority:

More recently, we’ve also started assembling a state policy agenda, focusing on our cooperation with Baptist state conventions in advocating at the state level. 

On today’s episode, you’ll hear from Hannah Daniel, our director of public policy who is based in D.C., and Brent Leatherwood, president of the ERLC. They’ll explain the importance of our policy agendas and highlight major pieces of legislation that matter to Southern Baptists. 

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Lindsay Nicolet and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions. It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Jan 24

WASHINGTON (BP) – A trio of pro-life bills, endorsed by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, were either introduced, reintroduced or passed on Thursday, Jan. 18.

The Pregnancy Center Support Act was introduced to the Senate on Thursday, while the Unborn Child Support Act was reintroduced the same day. Additionally, the previously introduced Pregnant Students’ Rights Act passed the House on Thursday.

These updates took place one day before the annual March for Life, and three days before Sanctity of Life Sunday on the SBC Calendar.

Hannah Daniel, ERLC public policy director, praised the work of the lawmakers involved with the bills.

“At a time when lawmakers have been timid to voice pro-life convictions, I was encouraged to see legislative activity pushing forward the cause of life last week,” Daniel said.

At the ERLC, we are celebrating the passage of the Pregnant Students’ Rights Act along with the introduction of the Pregnancy Center Support Act and the Unborn Child Support Act. These bills recognize the dignity and personhood of the preborn and also tangibly assist new mothers and families to choose life.

Hannah Daniel

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Jan 24

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 24, 2024—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has released its 2024 Public Policy Agenda, highlighting its federal legislative and policy priorities that the organization plans to address relevant to its mission. 

“Each year, the ERLC assembles a detailed federal public policy agenda that highlights critical policies and legislation that are being considered in our nation’s capital,” said ERLC President Brent Leatherwood. “Our team spends a substantial number of hours researching and creating this thoughtful report to bring awareness to Southern Baptists about issues related to life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity. As stated in our Baptist Faith & Message, ‘Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.’ In other words, we want our neighbors to flourish. That objective is at the very heart of this important document.”

The following are highlights from the ERLC’s policy priorities for 2024:

Life 

  1. Protect Pro-life Riders in the Congressional Appropriations Process: The ERLC will work to preserve the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life riders to prevent government-funded violence against preborn children and to protect citizens from being coerced into violating their consciences by using their tax dollars to support abortion.
  2. Ending the Proliferation of Chemical Abortions: Because these drugs not only take the life of a preborn child but also pose serious threats to the women who take them, the ERLC has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to categorize the abortion pill mifepristone as an “imminent hazard to the public health.” The ERLC continues to push back against mail-order abortion drugs and supports federal legislation, such as the SAVE Moms and Babies Act, which would codify regulatory standards into federal law.
  3. Oppose “Abortion Tourism”: As many states across the country moved to ban or severely restrict abortion following the Dobbs decision, the ERLC saw moves from both the Biden administration and corporate America to promote and provide resources for pregnant women seeking abortion to travel to states where it remains legal. The ERLC has strongly advocated against the use of any use of taxpayer funds toward these efforts and is looking for new ways to prohibit the use of federal funding to subsidize the abortion industry.

Religious Liberty

  1. Oppose The Equality Act: The Equality Act would codify the demands of the sexual revolution and radically reshape religious freedom in the U.S. The bill would curtail religious freedom protections, hinder the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately steamroll the consciences of millions of Americans.
  2. Support the Conscience Protection Act: No healthcare worker should have to compromise their deeply held beliefs in order to administer care. The Conscience Protection Act provides conscience protections for Americans with religious or moral objections to health insurance that covers contraception methods. The ERLC believes such legislation is critical to curb conscience abuses across the country. 
  3. Combat Global Antisemitism: Following the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, and Israel’s subsequent response, there has been a significant rise in antisemitism both domestically and abroad. After the horrific attack on Israel, the ERLC led in drafting an Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel, and will continue to build support for Israel’s right to exist and defend themselves. 

Marriage and Family

  1. Support Adoption and Foster Care Policies: The ERLC’s defense of vulnerable children is woven through a wide variety of priorities, from religious liberty concerns involved in adoption to the effect the opioid crisis has on foster care as parents struggle with addiction. The ERLC is advocating for policies that would support and strengthen adoption, making it both more affordable and accessible. 
  2. Oppose Harmful “Gender Transition” Surgeries and Procedures: The ERLC is advocating for these procedures on minors to be outlawed and supports the Protecting Minors from Medical Malpractice Act, which provides conscience protections for medical providers and ensures parents and children affected by “gender transition” surgeries and procedures have a private right of action.
  3. Support Parental Rights: In 2023, the ERLC worked with numerous Baptist state conventions to oppose laws that hid information about a child’s adopted gender identity from his or her parents. The ERLC will continue to actively oppose and work against these efforts in the courts while also supporting federal legislation, including the Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act, which further strengthens the rights of parents.
  4. Support Protections for Children Online: With many children gaining unsupervised access to the internet at younger and younger ages, there has been an explosion in awareness of the harms this is bringing to many children. More must be done to prevent children from accessing harmful content, such as pornography, and to empower parents in overseeing the online activity of their children. 

Human Dignity 

  1. Support a Permanent Solution for Dreamers: With litigation on its way to the Supreme Court that will likely end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, these young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents remain in an unstable situation. Now young adults, “Dreamers”—many of whom have families of their own with children who are U.S. citizens—are workers, students, and positive contributors to our communities. The ERLC will continue to urge Congress to act to provide a legislative pathway to permanent status for these individuals.
  2. Combat the Epidemic of Mass Shootings and Gun Violence: In 2018, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention gave support for “preventative measures that would reduce gun violence and mass shootings while operating in accordance with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution,” and in 2022, messengers urged lawmakers “to take concrete steps…to minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society.” The ERLC will advocate for these types of measures that prevent the loss of innocent life to the evil of gun violence and mass shootings and provide help to those suffering severe mental distress. 
  3. Support Efforts to Shape Artificial Intelligence and Technology that Emphasize Human Dignity: In June 2023, the SBC overwhelmingly passed a resolution offering guidelines on this topic, becoming the first denomination to make an official statement on the ethics of artificial intelligence. The ERLC will continue to assist lawmakers in understanding these realities and advocate for policies in line with this call of human dignity and the common good.

“The ERLC will continue its mission on Capitol Hill throughout 2024—loving our neighbors and seeking their flourishing through public policy,” said Hannah Daniel, ERLC director of public policy. “Grounded in Scripture and guided by the SBC’s resolutions, this document outlines how our advocacy will take shape this year. Despite deep divisions across our nation and dysfunction in Washington, we must find a way to press forward on these issues of missional importance: protecting life, safeguarding religious liberty, bolstering marriage and families and upholding human dignity.”

For more information and the expanded list of public policy priorities, please visit the public policy landing erlc.com/policy.

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected]