By / Oct 20

The Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is recommending that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) significantly loosen federal restrictions on marijuana and reclassify it in a lesser category under the Controlled Substances Act. This recommended shift at the federal level is spurred by the increasing efforts at legalization and decriminalization at the state and local levels. Currently, 21 states have fully legalized recreational use of marijuana and six others have decriminalized such use.

If accepted, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) believes this change will bring significant harm to our communities. Because all people are made in the image of God, we desire to see public policy that promotes the flourishing of our neighbors. The ERLC sent a letter to the DEA sharing these concerns and urging them to reject this rescheduling recommendation from the Biden administration.

While proponents of legalization, decriminalization, and rescheduling of marijuana often cite—and overstate—the medical benefits and the disproportionate criminalization impact on marginalized communities, there are compelling arguments to keep marijuana illegal, especially at the federal level.

Why marijuana should be restricted

One of the reasons marijuana should remain illegal is rooted in the health hazards associated with marijuana use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has highlighted several adverse effects such as impairment in learning, memory, and attention. Moreover, it has been associated with an increased heart rate and a higher risk of heart attack. The drug is also more addictive than is assumed, with an estimated 10% of users becoming addicted.

In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a committee of experts to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature regarding the health effects of marijuana use. They found there is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. Also, in states where cannabis use is legal, they found an increased risk of unintentional cannabis overdose injuries among children.

In 2019, five years after legalization of recreational sale of marijuana in Colorado, more people were visiting emergency rooms for marijuana-related problems, and hospitals reported higher rates of mental-health cases tied to marijuana. Legalization can potentially lead to a public health crisis, particularly if marijuana use begins during adolescence, a period when the brain is still developing.

The potential impact on mental health further accentuates the concerns surrounding marijuana usage. Early marijuana use is linked to lower IQ scores, dropout rates, and risk of mental illness like psychosis or schizophrenia later in life. Marijuana smoke also contains many of the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke, which could increase future risk of lung cancer and chronic bronchitis.

Another reason marijuana should be restricted is that it remains a “gateway drug” to other controlled substances. As long-term studies have shown, marijuana alters brain chemistry and primes it for sensitivity to other drugs. Usage of the drug has been shown to lead to experimentation with harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Also, as has been shown over the last decade, decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana has normalized drug use, making individuals—especially young people—more susceptible to trying substances that are even more dangerous than cannabis. 

Supporters of loosening restrictions argue that there are valid medical reasons for reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substance Act. But such a shift is unnecessary since there are already legal and regulated medications available to address the medical conditions that proponents argue marijuana can alleviate.

While marijuana contains compounds like THC with potential medicinal benefits, there are FDA-approved medications like Marinol that serve similar purposes but within a regulated framework. This regulation ensures a standardized dosage and quality, minimizing the potential for abuse that comes with the raw, unregulated form of marijuana that has over 400 components, many of which have not been studied well.

Those advocating for the decriminalization or rescheduling of marijuana too often ignore the potential public health and societal effects. The risks associated with marijuana, in terms of addiction, mental health issues, and its role as a gateway to harder substances, outweigh the perceived benefits of its legalization or decriminalization. The Biden administration should be taking a more cautious approach, emphasizing the importance of maintaining marijuana’s status as an illegal substance in order to safeguard public health, and to ensure the government will continue to protect children from the use of addictive and harmful drugs. 

By / Mar 10

On March 9, President Biden released his Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal. Every year, the president submits his budget proposal, and it serves as a blueprint for the administration’s priorities. A president’s budget proposal has no binding authority over Congress and will not become law. Rather, it is a request and a statement of priorities that serves as a starting point for negotiations in Congress as the House of Representatives and the Senate work on the 12 spending appropriations bills that fund the government. Given that Republicans now control the House of Representatives, it is likely that the final budget will look quite different from this initial proposal.

The ERLC actively engages in the appropriations process each year. In the president’s budget proposal, there are areas of deep concern, but also areas of possible collaboration. As negotiations begin in Congress, the ERLC will share these concerns and advocate for changes that protect life, promote religious liberty, support families, and respect human dignity.

Exclusion of pro-life riders and increased funding for abortion providers

Biden’s budget proposal includes a request for a 79% increase in additional funding for abortion providers through the Title X Family Planning program over last year’s enacted amounts. Though pro-life riders have traditionally kept this funding from directly funding abortion procedures, abortion providers are still able to receive funding through the Title X Family Planning program and other government funds to cover operational costs, allowing them to more easily reserve non-taxpayer dollars for abortion services. Although it is vital for women of any economic status to have access to important healthcare services, abortion — the act of taking a life — is not healthcare.

Additionally, the budget includes investments in “reproductive healthcare” at the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as funding for pro-abortion family planning internationally. Since the Dobbs decision, the Biden administration has made a number of moves to expand abortion access and coverage at VA facilities for those currently or formerly in the military. The budget includes $57 million to support the UN Population fund, a pro-abortion organization. As we seek to aid impoverished nations around the world, we should offer them real medical aid – not abortion.

Notably, for the third time since its inception in 1976, the Hyde Amendment has presumably been excluded from the president’s proposal. The Hyde Amendment is a budget rider on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill to prevent Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. This rider, along with other pro-life riders, are essential in protecting life as well as the consciences of millions of American taxpayers. Though the portion of the president’s budget request that was released on Thursday seems to indicate that these riders have been excluded, we will not know definitively until additional appendixes are released next week.

Before the Hyde Amendment was introduced, approximately 300,000 abortions a year were performed using federal Medicaid dollars. It is estimated that the Hyde Amendment has saved over 2 million lives since it was enacted. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has been passed by every Congress. Its success across the generations is not due to a shared belief about abortion but precisely because those representatives and senators believed the disagreement deserved respect. It is vital that Congress, throughout negotiations, attaches the Hyde-family of riders that protect life and protect the consciences of millions of Americans. It is important to note that although Biden’s FY 2022 and 2023 budget proposals also excluded these amendments, they were ultimately included in the final appropriations packages passed by Congress.

Emphasis on advancing gender equity

Throughout the budget proposal, Biden includes multiple proposals that advance “gender equity,” which includes sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). The president’s budget proposal would expand SOGI protections in all areas of life, invests $3 billion to “advance gender equity” internationally, and commits to providing gender-affirming care to veterans in VA facilities, with taxpayer funding. Efforts to advance SOGI as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. As the ERLC has long maintained, a government that is able to pave over the conscience is one that has the unlimited ability to steamroll dissent on any issue.

Potentially helpful areas of investment

Though increased funding does not always necessitate better outcomes, we affirm the president’s desire to promote human flourishing through investment in a number of areas. Given that our spending allocations are often a statement of what we prioritize as a nation, it is encouraging to see emphasis from the president on a few key areas:

  • Improving border security and immigration processing: The budget proposal includes an increase of $800 million for border security agencies and increased investments in border patrol and processing personnel. That investment in border security is coupled with increased funding for meeting humanitarian needs at the border and funding for 150 new immigration judge teams to speed up asylum processing. 
  • Rebuilding refugee resettlement and supporting Afghan evacuees: The proposal includes a $7.3 billion investment in resettling 125,000 refugees in the next fiscal year as well as responding to the needs of unaccompanied migrant children. The budget also includes funding for expedited processing and increased visas available for Afghans who served with the US military and were evacuated to the U.S. following the Taliban’s takeover.
  • Supporting vulnerable mothers and families: Though we would not fully support all aspects of these programs as proposed, the proposal includes several initiatives related to reducing maternal mortality, expanding insurance coverage for postpartum mothers, ensuring paid leave for new parents, and expanding the Child Tax Credit. While we have disagreements with the administration about some of the specifics of these policies, it is encouraging to see pro-family policies receive a prominent position in the president’s proposal.
  • Making adoption more affordable: The budget proposal includes initiatives that seek to better support children and families in the adoption and foster care systems. It also proposes making the adoption tax credit fully refundable, something the ERLC has long advocated for, making adoption more affordable and accessible 
  • Implementing the First Step Act: In 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act, a package of significant criminal justice reforms, supported by the ERLC. This budget proposal includes financial investments in implementing that law to support rehabilitative programming, improving prison conditions, and hiring new staff to implement First Step Act reforms.

What’s next?

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin the appropriations process which includes a hearing to discuss budget requests and writing and marking up the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government. Congress will have the opportunity to make significant changes, such as including the Hyde Amendment and other important pro-life riders, as they did in Fiscal Year 2023. It is likely that each chamber, and thus each party, will release competing versions of these bills, and negotiations will be fierce as lawmakers debate what will be included in the final package. 

Each year, the ERLC is actively engaged in the appropriations process, working alongside committee and leadership offices to ensure that important pro-life, religious liberty, and conscience protections are included and harmful policies are excluded. The ERLC will continuously advocate for the inclusion of these pro-life provisions as well as other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life around the world.

By / Feb 24

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion into Ukraine, saying the “special military operation” is aimed at “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country to protect ethnic Russians, prevent Kyiv’s NATO membership, and to keep it in Russia’s “sphere of influence.” Western nations pushed back, saying that it was an illegal act of agrression against a sovereign nation. 

Here are some of the most notable events over the past year related to the invasion.

March 2022: Russia accused of bombing a children’s hospital

A few weeks after the invasion, the Russians proposed a 12-hour ceasefire to provide evacuation corridors from select cities such as Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Mariupol. But during that period, Russian forces reportedly bombed a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol that killed three people, including one child. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said the bombing was “proof of a genocide.”

March 2022: Governments and corporations impose sanctions on Russia

In March, President Joe Biden announced a U.S. ban on imports of oil, natural gas, and coal from Russia. (U.S. imports from Russia account for only 8% of America’s energy, of which only about 3% was crude oil.) The European Union also cut gas imports from Russia by two-thirds, and the United Kingdom said it would phase out “the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022.”

The U.K. has also frozen the assets of seven Russian oligarchs, including one that owns an English soccer team. Additionally, the U.K. has made it a criminal offense for Russian aircraft to enter British airspace. A number of international companies also imposed voluntary sanctions. The list of companies includes Apple, Disney, Ford, MasterCard, McDonalds, and Visa. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo announced they would be pulling some products from the country.

April 2022: Russian troops kill hundreds of civilians in “cleansing” operation

After Russian troops retreated from Kyiv, the bodies of hundreds of civilians were found on the streets of the town of Bucha and in mass graves. News agencies discovered that in an attempt to neutralize resistance and terrorize locals into submission, the Russian military had ordered “zachistka”— cleansing. “The results of the criminal evidence we’ve gathered so far reveal that it wasn’t just isolated incidents of military personnel making a mistake but a systematic policy targeting the Ukrainian people,” said Taras Semkiv, Ukraine’s lead prosecutor for these war crimes.

June 2022: Claims of torture in Russian-occupied territories

By June, the BBC had documented numerous allegations of civilians being tortured by Russians in the region of Kherson. The claims included acts of rape, electrocution, beatings, strangulation, and burning—including on people’s hands, feet, and genitals. A doctor who claims to have treated such injuries says, “They were tortured if they did not want to go over to the Russian side, for being at rallies, for being in the territorial defence, for the fact that one of the family members fought against the separatists, some got there randomly.” Within the first four months of the war, ​​Ukraine claimed that around 15,000 suspected war crimes had been reported, with 200 to 300 more reported daily.

June 2002: SBC messengers adopt resolution on the war in Ukraine

At the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California, SBC messengers voted to adopt a resolution strongly condemning the actions of the Russian Federation in her declaration and acts of war against the sovereign nation of Ukraine. The resolution also called upon Putin to cease hostilities immediately, withdraw the Russian military, and end this war of aggression against Ukraine and her people. The messengers also noted that the SBC stands in “solidarity with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters in Christ as well as the people of Ukraine who have endured these atrocities and who have witnessed the horrors of war firsthand while seeking to defend their country from an invasion by a hostile army.” 

September 2002: Ukraine retakes much of the northeastern region; Putin calls up reservists

In September, Ukrainian forces launched a surprise counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region which forced Russian troops to pull back from areas that had been seized for months. In response, Putin ordered the mobilization of 300,000 reservists. The move was unpopular within Russia and led hundreds of thousands of Russian men to flee to neighboring countries to avoid recruitment.  

December 2022: Ukrainian President Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress

In his first visit outside of Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, Zelensky visited Washington, D.C., to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. In the speech—given two days before Christmas—Zelensky said:

We’ll celebrate Christmas, celebrate Christmas and even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out. If Russian – if Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other. And we don’t, don’t have to know everyone’s wish as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: Victory. only victory.

February 2023: U.N. says 8,000 non-combatants killed and 8 million people have fled Ukraine

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) reports that at least 8,000 non-combatants have been confirmed killed and nearly 13,300 injured since the Russian invasion. But the true number is likely to be substantially higher, OHCHR staff have said. More than 100 cases of conflict-related sexual violence had been documented thus far.

Additionally, more than 8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Poland has seen the largest numbers of Ukrainian refugees (around 1.5 million), followed by other European countries like the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia.

February 2023: President Biden visits Kyiv

Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Feb. 20. In meeting with the Ukrainian president, Biden showed that the U.S. was in solidarity with our Ukrainian allies. The U.S. president announced a half-billion dollars in new assistance, including a variety of military equipment, and the imposition of new sanctions on Russia. “One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” said Biden.

By / Feb 20

Recently, President Biden announced a new pilot program to allow for individuals to privately sponsor refugees coming to the United States. Through the program, Welcome Corps, groups of at least five individuals can work together to raise funds to sponsor a refugee. Once the refugee arrives, these individuals, rather than a traditional resettlement agency, will assist them in securing housing, employment, and education for their children for at least 90 days as they integrate into American life.

This new initiative comes at a time where both international displacement is at record highs and the United States has struggled to meet its goals in resettling refugees through the traditional U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) process. 

This program presents new opportunities for individuals and churches to be involved in helping the persecuted and welcoming the vulnerable into our communities.

Why does it matter?

As Americans, it can be easy for us to feel distant from refugees around the world and to wonder why these backlogs and challenges matter. But the issues in the resettlement system are affecting the real lives of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, and a system that was designed to assist them in finding refuge is often leaving them stranded and unable to receive help in a timely and effective manner.

  • The Bible: This matters, first of all, because these people matter greatly to God, and we are called to love, serve, and work for their good. The Bible is unequivocally clear in its command for Christians to care for the persecuted and vulnerable. Throughout the narrative of Scripture, we see God’s call to care for the immigrant and the refugee as vulnerable people made in the image of God (Matt. 25:35-40; James 1:27). 
  • The SBC: The Southern Baptist Convention has reaffirmed this command to care for the “stranger” among us through numerous resolutions declaring “the value and dignity of immigrants, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, culture, national origin, or legal status” and encouraging “people to increase their involvement in resettlement of legal refugees through the enlistment of sponsors and the provision of church-centered ministries.”
  • The historic precedent: Historically, people of faith have led the way in resettling refugees. On a national level, six of the nine agencies that work with the U.S. government to resettle refugees have religious roots that motivate their work. Recent polling indicated that 36% of evangelicals have been directly involved in serving refugees and immigrants, and 70% say that the U.S. has a moral responsibility to accept refugees.
  • The new opportunities: This new program will allow us to better serve more of our persecuted brothers and sisters and play a larger role in welcoming them into our communities. It presents new opportunities for Christians to continue leading the way in caring for the most vulnerable among us. For example, it will allow Christians and churches who are in more rural parts of the country or communities where there are not active resettlement agencies to begin taking part in this important work.

How can Christians get involved?

In the first year of this program, the Biden administration is hoping to mobilize at least 10,000 Americans to sponsor at least 5,000 refugees. If you are interested in getting involved, here are a few suggestions:

  • Pray that God would raise up sponsors in the United States to welcome refugees, and that through this service, many refugees would come to know Christ.
  • Consider becoming a sponsor. If you’d like to know more about what this entails, or if a group of church members is ready to take the first steps toward sponsorship, visit welcomecorps.org.
  • Talk to your local resettlement agency. If you live in a community where a resettlement agency is already active, reach out to them and see if there are ways you can partner with them to serve refugees that are already being resettled in your community. 

How does this program work?

Definition of a refugee: Typically, under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a refugee is “an alien who, generally, has experienced past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Those who meet this definition may seek refugee status if they are outside of the U.S. or asylum status if they are physically in the country. 

Here is a rundown of how the process works: 

  • The first step for an individual who meets this definition is to register with the UNHCR. The UNHCR then must determine whether the individual qualifies as a refugee and what the best solution for them is. Generally, less than 1% of those who qualify as refugees are ultimately resettled to a third country each year. 
  • Once an individual is referred by UNHCR for resettlement in the U.S., a network of federal agencies and non-governmental organizations work together to conduct intensive security, biometric, and eligibility screenings. 
  • Following these screenings, refugees then must be approved for travel, go through medical exams, and be sponsored by a domestic resettlement agency. 
  • Refugees then face final vetting from Customs and Border Patrol upon their arrival to the U.S. Through these rigorous processes, refugees are some of the most thoroughly vetted individuals who come to America. 
  • Once a refugee is in the U.S., a resettlement agency, in partnership with the U.S. government, works to integrate them into the community and help them successfully start a new life. This process currently takes an average of over five years. This new program will have refugees follow the same process until they reach the U.S. where they will be resettled by individuals rather than a resettlement agency. It will serve as a complement—not a replacement —to the work of resettlement agencies.

Welcome Corps is similar to programs over the last year that utilized private individuals in welcoming and resettling Afghan and Ukrainian evacuees who, because of severe backlogs in the resettlement system, were brought to the U.S. under humanitarian parole, meaning that they did not receive traditional resettlement benefits granted to refugees. 

A number of factors have caused these slowdowns and backlogs throughout the process severely lengthening the amount of time it takes for a refugee to be resettled and limiting the number of individuals able to actually be resettled each year, regardless of the cap that is set by the president. Despite Biden’s goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022, the U.S. only resettled just over 25,000 refugees.

As the State Department said in announcing the program:

“The American people have extended an extraordinarily welcoming hand to our Afghan allies, Ukrainians displaced by war, and Venezuelans and others fleeing violence and oppression. The Welcome Corps will build on Americans’ generosity of spirit by creating a durable program for Americans in communities across the country to privately sponsor refugees from around the world. . . By tapping into the goodwill of American communities, the Welcome Corps will expand our country’s capacity to provide a warm welcome to higher numbers of refugees.” 

By / Feb 10

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay talk about racial unity in the SBC. They also disucss a recap of the State of the Union address, the devastating earthquake in Turkey, and J.D. Greear’s article responding to comments Andy Stanley made about homosexuality. 

ERLC Content

Culture

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • 2023 Public Policy Agenda | The first session of the 118th Congress is now underway, and it begins as the nation is grappling with war around the world, inflation at home, and deep division across our nation. This also begins a new era of divided government with a Democratic president, a narrow Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, and a slim Republican majority in the House. This dynamic ensures legislating and governing will be a difficult task. We recently released the 2023 ERLC Public Policy agenda which includes our priorities for religious liberty, sanctity of life, marriage and family, and human dignity. Download the full agenda and learn how your Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is advocating for issues important to Southern Baptists at ERLC.com/policy.
  • Email updates | Now that 2023 is fully underway, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work we are doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. Whether it’s our 2023 Public Policy Agenda or another ultrasound machine placement, we want to make sure you know how we are serving our churches and acting as missionaries to the public square. As we move forward in 2023, know that first in our hearts and at the top of our minds are our churches. And we are taking those next steps with a Mark 10:44 mindset: to be a servant of all. The best way to learn more is by joining us at ERLC.com/updates. Signing up for email updates allows you to hear directly from us about our work and ways we are serving you on the issues that matter most to Southern Baptists. You’ll learn about our work on your behalf in our nation’s capital, about exciting new partnerships with our state conventions and the ways we are working across the convention with our sister entities. Become an email subscriber at ERLC.com/updates.
By / Feb 7

Today, President Biden will deliver his second State of the Union address. The State of the Union (SOTU) gives the president the opportunity to report to Congress and the American people on the current condition of the United States and provides a policy vision for the upcoming legislative year. 

Unlike last year, Biden is delivering this address to a divided Congress, with Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate and Republicans holding a slim majority in the House of Representatives. Despite these realities, this year presents Biden with his last significant window of opportunity for major legislative action before the 2024 election cycle begins early next year. Looming over this year’s State of the Union is persistently high inflation at home, an intensifying war abroad, and uncertainty about whether the president will seek reelection in 2024.

What do we expect President Biden to address?

Thus far, the contents of Biden’s address have been closely held, so new initiatives that the president would like to call for or major legislation he’d like to push may not be known until the speech begins. However, there are a number of issues that, even without reporting, seem likely to be included. 

Abortion

This will be the first State of the Union given in a post-Roe America. Since the Dobbs decision was released last summer, the Biden administration has taken a number of actions to expand abortion access across the country. In addition to congressional efforts to codify a right to abortion following the ruling, the administration has flexed its regulatory powers to push forward abortion and subvert pro-life state laws. Through the administrative state, Biden has mandated abortion access at VA facilities across the nation, made the abortion pill more readily available than ever before, and is reportedly weighing declaring a “public health emergency” to create new avenues for abortion access.

Ukraine

Undoubtedly, the ongoing war in Ukraine will be addressed. As we approach the one-year mark of Russia’s unjust, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Biden will likely highlight all that the United States has done to support the Ukrainian people and pledge our country’s continued support. The president may also tout the country’s swift response in welcoming roughly 100,000 Ukrainian evacuees and the work of U.S. aid organizations such as Send Relief in meeting the humanitarian needs caused by the war. 

As the war drags on and the economic costs are felt at home and in Europe, it will be important that Biden address why continued support for the Ukrainian cause matters on a humanitarian, economic, and national security level. 

Criminal justice reform

It was recently announced that the parents of Tyre Nichols will be in attendance at the State of the Union. Following the recent release of video footage showing five Memphis police officers using excessive force that eventually led to Nichols’ death, there have been renewed calls for policing and broader criminal justice reforms. It is probable that Biden will seize this momentum and urge Congress to take up action on this issue. 

The sincerity of these calls to action may be evaluated by what type of solutions the president highlights. Whether he chooses to point to partisan legislation such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, bipartisan legislation that Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) was involved in negotiating, or to criminal justice reforms outside of policing, such as the EQUAL Act, remains to be seen and will certainly be telling for the likelihood of any future action in this area.

Other issues President Biden should address

In his campaign for the presidency in 2020, Biden often referred to himself as a moderate, unity-seeking candidate. Despite some bipartisan legislative accomplishments on gun reform and infrastructure investments, the first two years of his presidency have been marked by high levels of partisanship and growing influence from the extreme-left wing of the Democratic party. Both a potential 2024 presidential run and the current realities of the U.S. Congress make it essential for Biden to stake out areas where true bipartisan consensus could be found and use the influence of his office to urge Congress to act in these areas. 

As mentioned in our recently released 2023 Public Policy Agenda, the following are areas with bipartisan support where we’d like to see both Congress and the president prioritize action.

Pro-Family Policy

In the wake of the Dobbs decision, there has been increased energy from lawmakers of both parties to do more to care for vulnerable women, children, and families. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)  joined that appeal this summer in anticipation of the decision, calling for pro-life and pro-family policies that “eradicate any perceived need for the horror of abortion.” 

Though the parties have deep disagreements on the issue of abortion, there should be common ground in addressing the key factors that drive women to seek abortions. We would like to see the president highlight policies that remedy marriage penalties, empower abortion-vulnerable women to choose life, and provide baseline levels of support for new parents.

China

One of the only moves to earn significant bipartisan support in these early days of this new Congress was the establishment of a committee in the House of Representatives to assess competition with China. As Biden reckons with China’s recent surveillance efforts, Secretary of State Blinken’s postponed visit to China, and his economic and climate goals, it is essential that human rights continue to be at the forefront of these conversations. 

In 2021, the SBC became the first protestant denomination ro rightly call what is happening to Uyghur Muslims a genocide, and since then, the ERLC has strongly advocated for the U.S. government to do more in countering China not just economically or militarily, but also morally.

Immigration reform

At the end of the last Congress, an unexpected, eleventh-hour framework emerged in the Senate, coupling much-needed border security improvements with a pathway to permanent status for Dreamers (young immigrants brought to the United States by their parents). Though this framework was not ultimately passed into law last year, the problems it sought to address have not gone away, and bipartisan groups of lawmakers have continued to negotiate possible solutions. Though immigration reforms in a divided Congress remain unlikely, these efforts would be bolstered by prioritization from the president. 

Biden certainly has a difficult task at hand to bring the country together amidst a myriad of ongoing challenges at home and abroad. Our hope is that he will pursue these policy areas where helpful compromises can be made and discord can be overcome, rather than pursuing divisive and extreme policies. Ultimately though, Christians do not put their faith in any one leader but trust God’s sovereign plan and pray that he gives each president wisdom in leading our nation.

By / Aug 6

This weekend, the Senate is delaying their long-awaited August recess to consider a major funding package. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 is a smaller version of President Biden’s failed Build Back Better package that included over $2.4 trillion in new spending. The IRA introduces $485 billion in new spending on energy subsidies, stricter tax enforcement, and healthcare provisions, and the bill promises to reduce deficits by $305 billion through 2031. Senators will spend their weekend debating and amending this large omnibus package using a complex legislative tool known as “reconciliation.” As Christians seek to be well informed on the workings of our government, play an active role in our democracy, and ensure the well-being of our neighbors, it is important to more fully understand this complicated procedure.

What is the reconciliation process?

Normal legislative debate is guided by long-standing filibuster rules. The filibuster requires 60 votes to invoke cloture, a key vote that ends otherwise endless debate and blocks the offering of unrelated amendments. But legislation considered under the reconciliation process is not subject to filibuster rules. Instead, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 automatically limits Senate debate to 20 hours, blocks germane amendments, and only requires a simple majority vote to advance a reconciliation package from the chamber. These adjusted rules empower a simple majority of senators to bypass legislative gridlock and fast-track legislation to the president’s desk.

Since the process’ inception, many landmark reconciliation packages have had major implications for federal spending and tax policy. Over almost 50 years, Congress and the president have enacted 22 reconciliation packages, including deficit reduction bills in the 1980s and 1990s, the Clinton welfare reform package in 1996, the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, the Obama Affordable Care Act amendments in 2010, the Trump tax cuts in 2017, and the American Rescue Plan supported by President Biden in 2021.

What is the Byrd Rule?

While the reconciliation process can be a useful tool to pass heavily partisan legislation, Senate rules strictly limit the scope and content of any reconciliation bills. A reconciliation directive known as the Byrd Rule instructs Congress to only consider budgetary provisions that modify federal spending, revenues, or the public debt limit. Typically, reconciliation only affects mandatory spending programs that do not require annual authorization: Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, and federal civilian and military retirement. The Byrd Rule also specifically prohibits Congress from modifying Social Security programs.

Under the Byrd Rule’s complicated review process, often called a “Byrd bath,” any senator can raise a point of order to block “extraneous” provisions that fall outside the aforementioned budgetary categories. The non-partisan Senate parliamentarian interprets whether the provision is indeed incidental to the process’ budgetary purposes and can delete such extraneous provisions, called “Byrd droppings,” from the package.

For example, during Byrd bath review of the American Rescue Plan of 2021, an expansive COVID-19 relief package, the Senate parliamentarian struck down a proposed amendment to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, much to the consternation of Senate Democrats.

What is a “vote-a-rama”?

While the special reconciliation procedures limit the amount of debate, the rules do not restrict the number of amendments that can be offered on the Senate floor. Once the 20-hour debate limit has ended, any remaining amendments are considered with little to no debate—a process known as a “vote-a-rama.” 

Each party is allotted about 30 seconds to comment on the proposed amendment, then the entire body immediately votes on the amendment. Depending on the amount of amendments offered, a vote-a-rama can last for hours, even overnight. The IRA vote-a-rama is expected to begin Saturday evening and end sometime Sunday afternoon.

The minority party typically leverages this amendment process to force majority-party senators to stake out politically unpopular positions. Given that, viewers should expect Republicans to propose hundreds of amendments on climate policy, inflation, and immigration.

How is the ERLC involved?

The ERLC will be carefully tracking the proposed amendments to the reconciliation bill and are committed to ensuring that pro-life and religious liberty protections are maintained. We had deep concerns about the Build Back Better package that was negotiated at the end of last year. We will always defend life and conscience protections, and are grateful for the members of Congress that will offer amendments protecting the pre-born and American consciences.  

By / May 16

The Biden administration recently announced that they plan to terminate Title 42, a pandemic-era rule that closed the United States’ borders to asylum seekers and others who migrate, on May 23. Title 42 has been in place since March 20, 2020, and has been used extensively to immediately expel migrants once apprehended without allowing them to assert their legal right to request asylum. After the administration’s announcement of rescinding Title 42, bipartisan concerns were raised about its termination, and whether the U.S. government was prepared for the anticipated influx of migrants at the border.

In 2021, roughly 2 million individuals were encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. Because most individuals were apprehended, often through voluntarily presenting themselves to border agents to seek asylum, then immediately expelled, many migrants attempted to cross multiple times. It is estimated that around 27% of these encounters were from repeat crossers. Of the 2 million apprehensions, about 1.1 million individuals were immediately expelled, with only some family units and unaccompanied children allowed to enter to pursue asylum claims. 

It remains unclear whether the Biden administration will pause its anticipated withdrawal of Title 42 to prepare for the potentially significant spike in attempted crossings and asylum requests this summer. Additionally, while many of these individuals have been and will continue to come from Central America, there have also been reports of growing numbers of migrants arriving to the border from Haiti, Cuba, Russia, Turkey, India, and even Ukraine.

Though each migrant’s journey to the U.S. looks different, many face some of the same tragedies and hardships on their journey. Horrific violence, extortion from cartels, emotional trauma, rape and sexual assault, and lack of basic necessities are commonplace for migrants on their journey to the U.S., especially for women and children. As we once again see headlines around immigration in the news, it is essential for us to stop and consider why so many still choose to come, given the difficulty of the journey and the uncertain futures that migrants face upon reaching the U.S.

The factors that cause each migrant to make the difficult decision to leave home vary for each individual situation and country. However, there are some consistent, widespread issues that are often cited as the root causes of migration: corruption, violence, and poverty. 

Corruption

Perhaps the most widespread root cause of migration is corruption. Corruption is especially damaging because where it persists, other evils can thrive. Where corruption is allowed to fester, it can easily spread to many institutions in a country and region: police, government, the judicial system, businesses, and even, in some instances, religious institutions. Once people have completely lost trust in their institutions, individuals are often relegated to despair and hopelessness. Many begin to believe that their situations cannot improve or that they will be unable to receive redress for injustices committed against them. While corrupt governments exist all over the world, they are currently particularly prevalent in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and Caribbean nations. Government leaders rake in huge sums of money while refusing to hold free and fair elections and failing to invest resources in the basic services that their citizens need to survive. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters throughout the world, especially in Central America, have exacerbated and highlighted these issues to the watching world. The inefficiency and corruption of these governments have prevented vulnerable people from receiving the necessary recovery aid, adequate testing and PPE to fight the pandemic, and have severely hampered the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, leading to prolonged and heightened suffering at the hands of this disease and these natural disasters.

Violence

It is in these environments of corruption that violence is especially able to thrive. Cartels and gangs are enabled to act without fear of punishment and are able to easily bribe and infiltrate the institutions that should protect the vulnerable. These dynamics are particularly hurtful to women and children, who face increasing levels of violence, including femicide and sexual violence. Impunity for these crimes is typical, with conviction for violence against women under 3% in Central America. With no threat of meaningful retribution, gangs and cartels are allowed to terrorize the vulnerable.

In addition to these trends in Central America, many are being forcibly displaced due to violence all around the world. Following the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan this summer, thousands were forced to flee. As Russia has now waged war in Ukraine, it is estimated that as many as 10 million individuals might be displaced, with over 4 million already leaving the country, creating the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. 

Violence is also often a factor for those who face persecution because of their religion or ethnicity. Open Doors’ recent World Watch List, which analyzes where it is most difficult to be a Christian, highlights countries where believers are being forced to flee for their Chritian faith. While many of these people seek protection through the refugee resettlement program, its severe backlogs and lengthy processing time force some to attempt to travel to the southern border to seek asylum.

Poverty 

A third factor that often spurs emigration is poverty. As individuals struggle to meet their basic needs, face no economic opportunity, and receive little assistance and aid from their governments, many are forced to make the difficult decision to migrate. Parents who see no opportunity for their children or are unable to provide for their needs have to reckon with these harsh realities. Nearly 10% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, attempting to survive on less than $2 per day, with children accounting for two-thirds of the world’s most poor, and for those older than 15, about 70% have no schooling or only basic education.

Oftentimes, poverty is directly linked to these other factors of violence and corruption. According to World Vision, “Although countries impacted by fragility, crises, and violence are home to about 10% of the world’s population, they account for more than 40% of people living in extreme poverty. By 2030, an estimated 67% of the world’s poor will live in fragile contexts.” 

Why does it matter?

Understanding why people migrate is essential to addressing our broken immigration system wisely. While there are sharp disagreements on how exactly our system should be fixed, few would argue that it currently works effectively. Addressing the root causes of migration must be an integral part of our national strategy to reform our immigration system. 

The ERLC has joined other evangelical organizations in urging both Congress and the administration to prioritize addressing these issues through equipping local Nongovernmental Organizations and civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations and churches, to meet the needs of their communities and fight against these forces of violence, corruption, and poverty. One piece of legislation that works to do this in the Northern Triangle is the Central American Women and Children Protection Act. The ERLC is actively advocating for the swift passage of this bill which would allow the vulnerable, particularly women and girls, to find safety in their communities without having to face the dangerous journey to the U.S.

Secondly and primarily, for us as Christians, understanding why people migrate helps us to see the dignity of these migrants, to better understand their pain, and to respond with empathy and compassion, rather than with partisanship or suspicion. It is much easier to see migrants as something to be feared or hated when we don’t first stop to consider their individual stories and the forces that brought them to our borders. As migrants arrive to the U.S., churches have an opportunity to reach the nations without leaving our neighborhoods. Migrants have experienced tremendous difficulty, and it is imperative that the Church respond with compassion and rise up to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the most vulnerable among us—in the same way that Jesus has cared for us. 

By / Mar 21

On Friday, Feb. 25, President Biden named Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court. Breyer “will retire at the end of the 2021-22 term” after 28 years. Jackson’s nomination is historic in that, if confirmed, she would be the first African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Confirmation hearings for the nomination of Jackson are set to begin later this month.

Here is what you should know about Jackson, nominee for associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Ketanji Brown Jackson

Age: 51

Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Education: A.B., magna cum laude, in Government from Harvard-Radcliffe College (1992); J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School (1996).

Current judgeship: U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (appointed by President Joe Biden in June 2021).

Previous roles: Jackson has served as a law clerk to three federal judges: Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States, Judge Bruce M. Selya of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Following her clerkships, and after years as a public defender, Jackson was nominated by President Obama to serve as the Vice-Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she served from 2010-2014. From 2013 to 2021, Jackson served on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Religious denomination: Unknown

Family: Jackson is married and has two daughters. Her parents were both public school teachers “and leaders in the Miami-Dade Public School System.”

Judicial philosophy: In the confirmation hearing after her nomination to the seat of United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, when asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar to “describe” and “characterize” her judicial philosophy,” JJackson said the following:

My judicial philosophy is to approach all cases with professional integrity, meaning strict adherence to the rule of law, keeping an open mind, and deciding each issue in a transparent, straightforward manner, without bias or any preconceived notion of how the matter is going to turn out.

As reported by The New York Times, Jackson has “not yet written a body of appeals court opinions expressing a legal philosophy,” but her earlier rulings “comport with those of a liberal-leaning judge.” It would seem that her judicial philosophy is reminiscent of that of Justice Stephen Breyer. 

What is Jackson’s history regarding life and religious liberty issues?

On matters of religious freedom, though Jackson’s judicial record is limited, she has publicly expressed support for religious liberty, “describing it as a foundational tenet of our entire government.” 

In 2017, Jackson issued an opinion in Tyson v. Brennan, a case alleging religious discrimination against a Christian worker by his employer, the United States Postal Service. In her opinion, Jackson allowed the discrimination claims to proceed. While the USPS sought to have the charges dismissed, Jackson argued that Mr. Tyson’s complaint was “sufficient to state a plausible claim for discrimination.” In this instance and others, the tenet of religious liberty was upheld. Thus, it seems likely that Jackson will seek to preserve First Amendment freedoms.

Her position on the issue of life seems more troubling, however. Because Jackson “hasn’t done a ton of rulings or work in the health-care space . . . it’s difficult to predict her judicial thinking on a wide array of issues,” including the issue of abortion. However, because she received strong statements of support from pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, one may logically assume that Jackson sides with the views held by these organizations, which are the predominant views among most within the Democratic party today. This is the opinion of Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post, who said, because “she was nominated by a Democratic President — one who has publicly committed to appointing judges that “respect foundational precedents like Roe [v. Wade].” She’s likely to vote with the more liberal justices on hot-button issues, like abortion . . . ” 

What’s next?

Now that Jackson has been nominated, “the President will seek the Senate’s consent to confirm Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court.” The confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin on March 21, “with Democratic leaders setting a goal of reaching a final Senate vote by April 8th,” just prior to the April 11 recess.

By / Feb 28

On March 1, President Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address. The U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section 3, clause 1) requires that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The State of the Union (SOTU) gives the president the opportunity to report to Congress and the American people on the current condition of the United States and provides a policy vision for the upcoming legislative year.

State of the Union addresses are typically delivered during the first two months of the year, and it’s unusual for a president to be invited by the Speaker of the House to deliver this speech in March as is the case this year.

Without a doubt, a large part of the speech will likely be dedicated to articulating the President’s views about the ongoing war in Ukraine, the largest foreign policy crisis of Biden’s term thus far. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine fundamentally challenges the post-Cold War world-order and presents a host of questions and unknowns for the United States and its NATO allies. Biden will be tasked with communicating a clear plan to address all of this and offering a compelling vision of why this matters to the American people.

Amidst these overarching issues of the war in Ukraine, record-breaking inflation, and a pandemic that continues to take American lives, Biden hasn’t been able to push forward his broad policy agenda. Democratic leadership had hoped to use a procedural tool known as budget reconciliation to pass the “Build Back Better” package that contained a number of Democratic priorities. However, moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have signaled their unwillingness to support this package as it currently exists. We anticipate portions of the President’s remarks to give some support to this liberal package. 

Beyond that, we anticipate President Biden to speak on the issue of abortion. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Schumer brought the Women’s Health Protection Act to the Senate floor for a vote. While it failed to pass the Senate, this legislation is the most pro-abortion bill to ever pass the House of Representatives. It is a deeply disturbing bill and it would be concerning for this bill to be highlighted as an achievement in the President’s address. 

While we have many strongdisagreements with Biden, such as on the issue of abortion, we also see areas of potential cooperation and bipartisanship, where positive policies could be pursued by Congress and the administration. In this deeply divided Congress and with a stalled agenda, Biden ought to use this address to direct his administration’s and Congress’ focus away from areas of extreme partisanship and toward areas of potential bipartisan agreement. Three areas where we’d like to see him do that are on immigration reform, refugee resettlement, and countering China. We highlight these areas because they have been clearly addressed by the Southern Baptist Convention through resolutions passed at the convention’s annual meeting over the years. 

Immigration reform

Though immigration reform was a key promise in Biden’s campaign, little has been done on the issue since he took office. At the beginning of his presidency, he signed a number of immigration-related executive orders and sent his sweeping “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021” to Congress. However, that bill has not moved forward, and few efforts have been made to gain Republican support. 

Though there are areas of sharp disagreement between the two parties on the area of immigration, there are also significant areas of agreement that should be explored. There is bipartisan support for a permanent, legislative solution for Dreamers, such as the “Dream Act.” Other proposals to reform our asylum system and border security could receive bipartisan support as well through legislation such as the “Bipartisan Border Solutions Act.” And just recently, Republican Congresswoman Salazar (FL) introduced her “Dignity Act” which could prove to be a starting point for negotiations toward a legalization effort between the two parties. 

While none of these pieces of legislation are perfect, they demonstrate that ample ground exists where the two parties could come together and legislate reasonable solutions to these important challenges. In his address, Biden should encourage the two parties to find common ground on this issue and pass bipartisan, commonsense solutions on areas of agreement rather than using these vulnerable immigrants as political pawns and continuing to fail to address these issues that affect human lives.

Refugees

After resettling a record-low number of refugees in fiscal year 2021, Biden set an ambitious goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022. Despite this admirable goal, the United States has only resettled 4,362 refugees this fiscal year as of Jan. 31, and is on track to resettle well below that target. 

Under the previous administration, refugee resettlement was largely halted, and many resettlement organizations were forced to close offices and significantly reduce operations. The resettlement pipeline overseas and the resettlement program in the United States were both further decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Seriously restarting the refugee resettlement program and reclaiming the United States’ position as a beacon of hope for those seeking refuge is not as simple as flipping a switch and increasing the number of refugees we are willing to accept. Government agencies that handle refugee resettlement and resettlement organizations need serious direction and support to be able to adequately serve these vulnerable populations.

This is also partly due to the resettlement of tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans who were brought to the United States using humanitarian parole, rather than the formal refugee process, due to the urgency of their evacuation. Resettlement agencies have swiftly jumped in to provide resettlement services to these Afghans despite facing considerable challenges.

Biden must keep the United States’ promises to the Afghan people, particularly those who assisted our troops. He should direct his administration to expedite processing through the refugee resettlement program of Afghans still stuck in third countries or in vulnerable situations overseas and should urge Congress to provide resettlement agencies with the resources they need to fully rebuild. 

China

A third area we’d like to see discussed in President Biden’s State of the Union address is how he plans to bolster the United States’ policies countering China. Though the Biden administration ultimately claimed the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act at the end of last year as a victory, reporting suggests that they were working behind the scenes to delay and dilute the bill. Similarly, the administration diplomatically boycotted the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing but failed to effectively use their power to help persuade other countries to follow suit.

Throughout the first year of his presidency, the horrendous human rights abuses and genocide of the Uyghur people in China have at times been deprioritized to economic or climate concerns. More must be done to counter China morally. President Biden should use his State of the Union address to lay out plans to do just that. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was passed with broad, bipartisan support, and President Biden should encourage Congress to continue this cooperation to further hold China accountable for its abuses.

President Biden certainly has a difficult task at hand to bring the country together amidst the ongoing challenges in the world. Our hope is that he will pursue these policy areas where compromises can be made and divisions can be overcome, rather than pursuing divisive and extreme policies. Ultimately, Christians do not put their faith in any one leader but trust God and pray that he gives President Biden wisdom as he leads our nation during these difficult times.