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.

By / Jan 21

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss President Biden’s press conference, the trust deficit in the U.S., and the failure of changing the filibuster. They also talk about a COVID-19 blind date that lasted for days, the pro-life movement and human dignity, and the value of senior adults. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. President Biden’s first year press conference 
  2. The U.S. has a trust deficit
  3. Attempt to change filibuster fails 
  4. Blind date lasts for days during COVID lockdowns 

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By / Jan 7

Nearly two years after the start of the pandemic, the variant known as Omicron has led to a rapidly increasing number of new infections. It has also brought with it a deluge of news tied to COVID-19. To keep you up to date, here is a round-up of COVID-related news in three broad areas — treatments, mandates, and court challenges. 

FDA approves new treatments 

Within the past six weeks, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for two new treatments for COVID-19. 

The first treatment, authorized in late November, is an intravenous (IV) infusion of casirivimab and imdevimab. When administered together, they are used to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age or older and weighing at least 88 pounds) who have tested positive and are at high risk for progressing to a more severe condition. The infusion is also authorized for those who are 65 years of age or older or who have certain chronic medical conditions.

In clinical trials, the infusion of casirivimab and imdevimab was shown to reduce COVID-19-related hospitalization or emergency room visits in patients at high risk for disease progression within 28 days after treatment. 

The Biden administration announced that it would purchase 20 treatment courses. President Biden said he was encouraged by the “promising data” from Pfizer and said the drug would “mark a significant step forward in our path out of the pandemic.”

The second treatment, authorized in late December, is Pfizer’s Paxlovid, an antibody pill that can be taken orally. This drug is also used to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older and  weighing at least 88 pounds) who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death. Paxlovid is available by prescription only and needs to be initiated as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of symptom onset. It is not recommended in patients with severe kidney or severe liver impairment.

“Monoclonal antibodies target the spike protein on the outside of the virus and they need to be given as an injection or infusion,” said Dr. Ryan Bariola, infectious diseases director at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “whereas the oral antivirals, they’re pills, they can be taken and target different parts of the virus lifecycle.”

Neither drug is considered a substitute for vaccinations and is not used for treatment in those requiring hospitalization due to severe or critical COVID-19. 

Masks mandates resume while schools shut down

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidance that Americans who contract COVID-19 or have not been boosted and are exposed to the virus can return to normal life after five days if they wear a mask. They recommend that those who have been exposed and tested negative wear a well-fitting mask when around others at home and in public until 10 days after your last close contact with someone with COVID-19.

If a person tests positive but has no symptoms, the CDC recommends isolating for at least five days from the date of a positive test. For those who develop COVID-19 symptoms, the recommendation is to isolate for at least five days from the date the symptoms began (the date the symptoms started is day 0).

The recommendation by the CDC to wear masks has led some states and cities to maintain or reimpose mask mandates. Currently, eight states — California, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington — require most people to wear masks in indoor public places, whether or not they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico also have similar mandates. 

Connecticut has an indoor mask mandate that applies to the unvaccinated, while Rhode Island requires masks for all large venues but gives smaller businesses leeway based on patrons’ vaccination status. Washington is the only state with an outdoor mask order, requiring face-covering at outside events attended by 500 or more people. 

Eleven states have not imposed mandates at any point during the pandemic, and some, including Florida, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas, have legislation or executive action to prevent local governments and school districts from doing so. (AARP has a complete state-by-state guide to face mask requirements.)

President Biden says he’s committed to keeping schools open amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. “We know that our kids can be safe when in school,” said the president after meeting with the White House COVID-19 response team. “That’s why I believe that schools should remain open.” Many governors and mayors are also pushing for in-person learning. 

But many schools are closing because of a teacher shortage. A survey of K-12 school districts across the country found that 2,753 schools were closed in the week beginning Jan. 3. Most of the school closures involved classes going remote for the first one to two weeks of January.

As Joel Mathis points out, “In Miami, 10 percent of teachers are out sick — probably with COVID. In New York, about a third of the city’s students didn’t show up on Monday, and some of those who did couldn’t get breakfast because of a shortage of cafeteria workers. Similar problems are expected to pop up across the country in the coming days.” 

Chicago officials also canceled classes for hundreds of thousands of public school students because the city’s teachers union voted overwhelmingly (73%) for remote education.

Court challenges to COVID-related mandates and rules

Last week, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Department of Defense (DoD) from punishing 35 members of the Navy who refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in compliance with the service’s vaccine mandate due to religious objections. The DoD issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members in August, and the Department of the Navy required all active-duty Navy personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before Nov. 28 or face discipline. 

In their lawsuit, the Navy Special Warfare servicemembers allege that the military’s mandatory vaccination policy violates their religious freedoms under the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

“This Court does not make light of COVID-19’s impact on the military,” Judge Reed O’Connor writes in his order. “Collectively, our armed forces have lost 80 lives to COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic. But the question before the Court is not whether a public interest exists. Rather, this Court must address whether an injunction will disserve the public interest. An injunction does not disserve the public interest when it prevents constitutional deprivations.”

And today (Jan. 7), the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on the legality of two federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates issued under the Biden administration. The justices will be considering four appeals — Biden et al. v. Missouri et al.; Becerra et al. v. Louisiana et al.; National Federation of Independent Business et al. v. Department of Labor et al.; and Ohio et al. v. Department of Labor et al. — which have been consolidated into two separate sets of oral arguments. (Of note, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a party in this first set of cases.)

The first set of consolidated cases concerns the enforceability of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule issued last November that requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure each of their workers is fully vaccinated or tests for COVID-19 on a weekly basis. That rule was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

The second set of consolidated cases concern a rule issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) last November that mandates staff working for Medicare or Medicaid certified providers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with narrow exceptions for religious and medical reasons. 

By / Dec 16

Mail order abortion pills are the next front for the pro-life movement, especially in light of the recent oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. The FDA today made permanent the temporary regulations allowing women to obtain the pills without an in-person consultation with their physician. This decision represents an extension of the abortion regime’s attempt to expand their ability to provide the abortion and a failure of the government to protect women from dangerous complications that may occur. In addition to making the regulations permanent, the FDA will require that pharmacies that dispense mifepristone be certified. 

What is the abortion pill and procedure?

The use of abortifacient medications has quickly become one of the most common forms of abortion. In 2019, abortion pills accounted for over 40% of all abortions in the United States. The pills may be used up to the 10th week of pregnancy. The procedure uses two separate medications. The first, mifepristone, blocks production of the hormone progesterone which thins the uterine lining and prevents the embryo from remaining implanted. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 to 48 hours after the first dose. It causes the uterus to contract and discharge the child and placenta. A follow-up appointment is required after two weeks. Though this previously included either a sonogram to check for any remaining tissue or blood work to check for an infection caused from any remaining tissue, current regulations allow this to be completed by telephone. 

Previous FDA restrictions

Previously, the first pill had to be administered in a doctor’s office or at a clinic. The second pill could be taken at home. However in April 2021, the Biden administration lifted this requirement because of COVID-19 restrictions on gathering together. The temporary guidance allowed individuals to receive a prescription for the pill with only a telemedicine appointment. They were then shipped through the mail. At the time, the FDA argued that this was a result of review of multiple studies that noted no link between a lack of in-person visit and serious safety concerns. The decision by the Biden administration was a rollback of Trump-era policies that required the in-person visit and which were subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision.

The current regulations were temporary, in effect only because of the pandemic. However, the FDA’s decision today makes permanent the regulation, clearing the way for any certified healthcare provider to prescribe the drugs online and send them by mail. If the Supreme Court were to overturn the precedents in Roe, a possible outcome of the recent Dobbs abortion case heard earlier this month, individuals could still obtain the abortion pills through the mail with a telehealth consultation. Even in states which have passed restrictions on mail-order abortion pills, some companies have said that they will continue to ship the medication and disregard the laws and regulations. 

Dangers of mail-order chemical abortion

The FDA stated in their updated regulations that the “benefits outweighed the risks” as they removed the requirement for in-person consultation. However, though the rates of serious effects are statistically rare (between 1-2%), complications are not uncommon. Also, it should be noted that of the statistics that are available, there are disputes as to their accuracy because women may not report their adverse effects as being linked to the pill if they choose to go to the emergency room, thus leading to an undercounting of complications. 

Common complications from the abortion pills include severe bleeding or cramps as well as hemorrhaging. More dangerous, however, is the threat of an infection that may result from the medication not causing all of the fetal tissue and placenta to be expelled. Also, for individuals who have an ectopic pregnancy (an instance where the embryo implants outside of the uterus), detectable only through a sonogram, taking the first dose of medication — mifepristone — could cause very serious complications such as the rupture of the pregnancy and severe bleeding. 

How should Christians respond to the new regulations?

As Christians, we should lament the lengths to which abortion providers will go to extend the ghoulish practice of taking unborn lives. In some ways, it should be an encouragement that abortion providers feel the need to push for such drastic measures because it evidences the success of the pro-life movement in advancing and passing legislation restricting access to abortion and protecting the lives of the preborn. At the same time, Christians must recognize that this is further evidence that it is not enough just to make abortion illegal. We must convince the culture that the destruction of life is unthinkable.

Even in states that have outlawed the abortion pills, enforcement is difficult. Thus, Christians must work to ensure that they do not confuse the passing of pro-life legislation or the overturning of the precedents in Roe and Casey as the end of the fight. Important as that is, if people still desire abortions, these pills will be available. Christians must work tirelessly to proclaim the dignity of every human life and address those factors that lead women to consider abortion.

By / Nov 5

On Nov. 4, the Biden administration issued a COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). The stated purpose of this rule is “to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers (100 or more employees) from the risk of contracting COVID-19 by strongly encouraging vaccination.” The intent to issue this rule was announced in September by President Biden, but the text of the rule was issued in November.

What is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is under the Department of Labor. Established by President Richard Nixon in 1970, the agency’s mission is “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” OSHA’s jurisdiction covers most private and public sector employers, making the vaccine mandate announcement one of the most wide-reaching to date. 

This is not the first time that OSHA has intervened in the COVID pandemic. In June of this year, they announced a rule requiring healthcare employers to provide protective equipment such as masks and gloves, ensure proper ventilation, and screen patients at risk for COVID. This emergency standard was limited to healthcare employers (because of the group’s high-risk factors), though additional optional measures were disseminated for other industries such as manufacturing, retail, and food supply chains. 

What is the proposed rule?

The rule states that “covered employers must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, with an exception for employers that instead adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or elect to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work in lieu of vaccination.”

In short, the rule requires employers with 100 or more employees to submit their employees to weekly COVID-19 testing and masking requirements, or the employees can opt to receive one of the three vaccines that are approved or authorized for the prevention of COVID-19 in the U.S.: Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.

The OSHA rule will affect approximately 84 million private-sector workers across the country, including some 31 million who are believed to be unvaccinated.

It’s important to note that this rule doesn’t require an employee to receive the vaccine, but if they choose not to be vaccinated, they must undergo testing every week.  

What is the timeframe?

By Jan. 4, 2022 employees who work for employers with 100 or more people must be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing and masking requirements. The rule was published in the federal register on Nov. 5, and it is open for public comments for 30 days. The ERLC will be submitting public comments to OSHA about this issue.

Are there religious exemptions?

There are three exemptions listed in the rule rule:

  1. For whom a vaccine is medically contraindicated;
  2. For whom medical necessity requires a delay in vaccination; or
  3. Who are legally entitled to a reasonable accommodation under federal civil rights laws because they have a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances that conflict with the vaccination requirement.

While there are stated religious liberty exemptions, it is concerning that the ETS requires each covered employer to establish and implement their own written policy regarding religious exemptions. With this rule, each employer is effectively tasked with creating their own policies, and there will be thousands of different policies throughout the country, leading to inconsistent application and confusion. The proposed rule doesn’t offer any guidance for how to structure exemptions for objectors who have sincerely held religious beliefs.

How does this affect SBC entities?

On Nov. 5, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and Asbury Theological Seminary, filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to challenge the OSHA rule. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of SBTS, stated that “it is unacceptable for the government to force religious institutions to become coercive extensions of state power. We have no choice but to push back against this intrusion of the government into matters of conscience and religious conviction.”

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, 

“the lawsuit The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleges that the Biden administration lacks jurisdiction to dictate employment practices to religious institutions, lacks constitutional and statutory authority to issue the employer mandate, and that the mandate failed to meet the required procedural hurdles. In short, the federal government cannot coerce individuals nationwide to undergo medical treatment, and it lacks authority to conscript employers to compel that result.”

Is this the proper role of the government?

This rule raises questions and concerns about limits of government regulation both in terms of public health and safety measures. While governments do have heightened responsibilities during a public health crisis, the state must not use public health emergencies to overstep and exert authority that the Constitution has not entrusted it with.

ERLC’s Acting President, Brent Leatherwood stated:

From the outset of the challenges presented by COVID-19, we have consistently argued that  guidance from elected officials and public health experts is the path to take in lieu of mandates –– particularly as it relates to religious entities. This proposed rule is not that. Some private institutions will raise serious objections to government overreach. The better route for the state to take is providing clear, consistent, and coherent counsel that our fight is against a deadly disease, not one another.

How will the ERLC engage?

The OSHA interim final rule is open for public comments through Dec. 6. As we have done on previous occasions with proposed rules affecting churches and religious organizations, the ERLC will submit public comments expressing concerns with the scope of the regulation on behalf of our convention of churches. 

How should Christians think about this?

The ERLC has emphatically stated since the beginning of this public health challenge that government officials should opt for providing guidance over mandates, while at the same time seeking to uphold the free exercise of religion. Elected officials and local health experts should be actively partnering with pastors and churches to serve local communities as this pandemic rages on.

By / Nov 5

President Biden traveled to Rome last week to attend the annual G20 summit, a gathering of leaders from the world’s most powerful nations. Here is what you should know about the influential forum.

What is the G20 summit?

The G20 Summit is an informal forum, held annually, that includes 20 of the world’s major economies, known collectively as the G20, G-20, or Group of Twenty. The G20 was founded in 1999 with the aim of studying, reviewing, and promoting high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability. The members of the G20 account for more than 80% of world GDP, 75% of global trade, and 60% of the population of the planet.

What countries comprise the G20?

The G20 includes the European Union (EU) and 19 individual countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Several international organizations also regularly participate in the G20 summits, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), the Financial Stability Board (FSB), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the United Nations (UN). Each hosting country can also invite other countries, regional organizations, and international organizations to the summit.

Who represents these countries at the summit?

Each country is represented by their head of government, finance minister, and governor of the central bank. The EU is represented by the heads of the European Commission and by the European Central Bank. For the United States, the representatives are President Biden, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powel, and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

​​How is the G20 organized?

The G20 has no permanent staff or organization, but rather rotates annually among the members. Each member is assigned to one of five groups to ensure a “regional balance over time”:  Group 1 includes Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the United States; Group 2 includes India, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey; Group 3 includes Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico; Group 4 includes France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom; Group 5 includes China, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea.

A revolving three-member management group of past, present, and future chairs, referred to as the “Troika”, ensures continuity. The Troika countries are currently Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Indonesia. 

Where is the current G20, and where were they held in the past?

Italy assumed the G20 Presidency for 2021 and will host the Summit of the Heads of State and Government on October 30th and 31st in Rome.

Previous hosts of the G20 Leaders’ Summit were the United States (2008 and 2009), the United Kingdom (2009), Canada (2010), the Republic of Korea (2010), France (2011), Mexico (2012), Russia (2013), Australia (2014), Turkey (2015), China (2016), Germany (2017), Argentina (2018), and Japan (2019). Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia was held virtually. 

What issues were discussed at the summit?

The G20 started in 1999 as a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. Since the global financial crisis in 2008, though, the focus has expanded to include “working to strengthen the resilience of the global financial system and to improve the regulation and supervision of financial market participants, including what is known as the shadow banking system. The aim is to ensure that no financial market, financial market participant or financial product remains unsupervised.”

The summits have traditionally focused on issues relating to financial market regulation, global economic growth, and international trade. But almost anything of global significance that is closely linked with economic questions may be considered. Previous summits have included discussions about climate change, counter-terrorism, development policy, digital technology, migration, and refugee flows.  

For 2021, the G20, under the Italian Presidency, will focus on “three broad, interconnected pillars of action: People, Planet, Prosperity.” 

On the issue of the climate, these leaders committed to the key Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, pledged action against dirty coal plants, and pledged to reach a target of net zero carbon emissions “by or around mid-century.”

On financial regulation, they approved an agreement that will subject multinationals to a minimum 15% tax as part of an effort to build “a more stable and fairer international tax system.” (This must first be approved by each national legislature, such as the U.S. Congress.)

On the pandemic, they vowed to support the WHO’s goal of vaccinating at least 40% of the world’s population against COVID-19 by 2021 and 70% by the middle of next year.

Despite including in their agenda “protecting the most vulnerable,” the summit will not include discussion of how to deal with the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people by the Chinese Communist Party or other issues related to religious liberty.

By / Oct 4

Today, the Office of Population Affairs (OPA) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the final rule to revise regulations that govern the Title X family planning program “by readopting the 2000 regulations, with several revisions.” The stated effect of the final rule is to revoke the requirements of changes ordered in 2018 that included “removing restrictions on non-directive options counseling and referrals for abortion services and eliminating requirements for strict physical and financial separation between abortion-related activities and Title X project activities.”

The new rule, which takes effect on Nov. 8, will allow health centers to receive the federal funds even if they refer patients for abortions. With this reinstatement, Planned Parenthood stands to gain up to $60 million annually in federal taxpayer funding.

ERLC acting president Brent Leatherwood said, “While some will couch this in the Orwellian terms of advancing reproductive health, we should be clear about what is occuring here: Preborn lives are in danger, mothers are rendered vulnerable to a predatory abortion industry, and taxpayer consciences are being steamrolled. This should be unacceptable in the eyes of every American. But as long as we remain a society that refuses to recognize the inherent dignity and right to life that each person possesses in the womb, we will remain a throwaway culture that wantonly discards children and bankrolls abortionists.”

What is the Title X funding program?

Title X or Title X Family Planning is the common name for Public Law 91-572 — the “Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970.” Title X is a federal grant program “dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.” The funds — currently $286.5 million a year — are given to the individual states who, based on federal rules and regulations, disperse it to qualified Title X clinics. The statute prohibits this money from being used to support abortion as a method of family planning. According to the law, “[n]one of the funds appropriated under this subchapter shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”

Title X allows grant money to be “used only to support preventive family planning services.” All this really means, though, is that grant recipients like Planned Parenthood cannot directly use money from the federal government for abortion services. But money is fungible. A dollar spent for one purpose can also cover other purposes. For example, the money the federal government gives to Planned Parenthood can be used indirectly to cover operating and overhead costs such as rent and staff salary. This allows Planned Parenthood to provide abortions that are essentially subsidized by the government.  

History of Title X

In 2019 under the Trump administration, HHS issued a new final rule to reinstate Title X regulations that separate taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. The rule shifted funding from abortion providers — such as Planned Parenthood — and steered some of it toward faith-based care providers. In June 2019, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to block the final Title X rule.

Title X has been somewhat of a political football, changing with different administrations.

During the Reagan administration, a regulation was issued that required that Title X projects be organized so that they are “physically and financially separate” from prohibited abortion activities. This regulation was challenged in the courts but was upheld in the 1991 Supreme Court ruling Rust v. Sullivan.

When former President Clinton took office, he reversed that regulation, and it was never reinstated. Former President Obama issued an additional regulation prohibiting states from defunding or deprioritizing abortion businesses in issuing subgrants with their Title X money. (This regulation was overturned by Congress in March 2017.) President Trump’s rule was loosely based on the Reagan-era framework.

The ERLC strongly opposed the reversal of this rule, and we will always advocate for life before Congress, the courts, and the administration. We know the abortion industry devalues human life and exploits families, and we are deeply grieved by this action. The ERLC will continue to be a voice for the voiceless and work toward a day when abortion is both unnecessary and unthinkable.

By / Jul 23

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss John Leland, religious freedom, Jeff Bezos the astronaut, COVID-19 surging once again, the start of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the six new sports debuting in Tokyo, the Milwaukee Bucks winning the NBA championship, and USA stove pipe hats. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Nathan Finn with “3 reasons Baptists should look to John Leland: Religious liberty, evangelism, and biblical justice,” Ben Harbaugh with “Explainer: Biden administration to nominate Ambassador for International Freedom,” and Policy Staff with “Explainer: Federal court strikes down discrimination against religious student groups on college campus.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. The Blue Origin suborbital space flight
  2. Covid hits the Capitol amid visit from infected Texas lawmakers
  3. Texas Democrats to break quorum in special session over voting rights
  4. new infections surge to highest point in 5 months
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  6. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics
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By / Mar 9

On Friday, President Joe Biden removed the general counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an action seen by many as controversial. Sharon Gustafson was appointed by President Donald Trump in 2018 to serve as the agency’s top litigator through 2023. She recently sent a letter to President Biden on March 5 declining his request to resign. 

“I have confidently given this advice to countless embattled clients over the last 25 years: hold your head high, do your best work, and do not resign under pressure,” Gustafson wrote in her letter to the president. “In solidarity with them, I will follow that advice.”

The administration previously fired the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel (NRLB), another Trump appointee, who also refused to resign. President Biden’s decision to fire Gustafson may have significant implications for religious liberty protections, which would be deeply concerning for Christians.

What is the EEOC?

The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. This also applies to sex, which includes pregnancy, sexual orientation, and transgender status.

EEOC laws apply to most employers with at least 15 employees and 20 employees in age discrimination cases. Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.

The EEOC has such powers as the ability to litigate discrimination cases and issue regulations interpreting the law. The agency can also accepts charges of discrimination from employees, investigates those charges, and attempts to mediate settlements between employees and employers.

Can’t the president fire anyone in his administration?

It’s unclear whether the president has the authority to fire officials at the EEOC. Within the executive branch of the federal government there are certain agencies, such as the EEOC and NRLB, which are supposed to operate as independent agencies. 

The 1935 case of Humphrey’s Executor v. United States ruled that the Constitution had never given “illimitable power of removal” to the president, and that President Hoover could not remove William E. Humphrey as a commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It is possible that this firing will lead to further litigation that expands on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which dealt with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In any case, it is safe to say that the Biden Administration’s action is without legal precedent and may be overturned.

What is the EEOC’s role in implementing Bostock v. Clayton County?

In June of 2020, the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling in a consolidated group of cases styled Bostock v. Clayton County. With the Bostock decision, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Bostock was a sweeping decision that fundamentally redefined the legal definition of “sex” and threatened, substantially, the conscience freedoms of religious employers in the United States. Because the EEOC is tasked with enforcing federal laws against discrimination, the commission will play a critical role in implementing Bostock and investigating claims of workplace discrimination. To a large extent, the leadership of the EEOC will determine whether or not the commission wields the weight of the federal government to threaten companies with dissenting views about human sexuality. Further, should the Equality Act become law, the EEOC will also pay a significant role in the implementation of this troubling legislation.

What is the role of the general counsel?

According to the EEOC, the General Counsel is responsible for managing, coordinating, and directing the Commission’s enforcement litigation program. As the agency’s counsel, they also provide overall guidance and management to all the components of the Office of General Counsel, including field office legal units.

The General Counsel is also responsible for developing litigation strategies designed to attain maximum compliance with federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. 

Why did Biden fire Gustafson?

The Biden administration has not stated its official reasoning for wanting to remove Gustafson as general counsel. However, after her nomination, several LGBTQ activist groups opposed her appointment to the EEOC. They opposed her, in part, because of the “evasive and non-committal” answers she gave “regarding the rights of LGBT workers.” 

In her letter declining to resign, Gustafson noted that after Biden’s inauguration, information on her efforts to promote religious freedom were removed from the EEOC website.

What is Gustafon’s record on religious liberty for employers?

Gustafson had been seen as an advocate for religious freedom. As she pointed out in her letter to President Biden, she focused on religious discrimination in the workplace throughout her time at the EEOC. She noted that during her tenure, “a Religious Discrimination Work Group” was established “that hosted a series of Listening Sessions in which a diverse group of religious representatives — including Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs — recommended ways the EEOC could  improve its response to employees who experience religious discrimination.” 

Additionally, rather than penalizing those with religious views, Gustafson prioritized balancing religious liberty concerns with competing claims of discrimination.

What does this mean?

Because the administration has refused to provide its rationale for seeking Gustafson’s resignation, it is unclear exactly why these actions were taken. However, there is reason to believe that this effort to interfere with an independent government agency is being done in service to the LGBT lobby. In any case, this action violates the EEOC’s autonomy and may portend further hostility toward Americans who dissent from the radical sexual orthodoxy of the progressive movement. The effort to replace Gustafson sends troubling signs about the future on these issues.

By / Mar 1

This week, the U.S. Senate Committees on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) and Finance held hearings on the nomination of Xavier Becerra for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Becerra is among President Joe Biden’s most controversial cabinet nominees, drawing significant opposition from pro-life Americans and religious liberty advocates.

Who is Xavier Becerra?

Currently, he serves as the attorney general of California, succeeding Kamala Harris after she was elected to the United States Senate in 2016. Prior to his appointment as attorney general, he served 12 terms in Congress as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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

As attorney general, Becerra targeted pregnancy resource centers, pro-life policies, and Catholic charities with a range of lawsuits challenging their religious liberty and conscience rights.

In a 2018 Supreme Court case titled National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California, Becerra threatened to shut down pregnancy resource centers serving women and children in crisis. The conflict arose after California passed a law requiring pro-life centers to publicize abortion services provided by the state or face exorbitant fines that would likely run them out of business. Forcing pro-life pregnancy resource centers to advertise for abortions is antithetical to their mission. Thankfully, NIFLA won in a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court.

In possibly his most infamous pursuit, Becerra filed suit to strip conscience protections for religious organizations, such as the Catholic charity, Little Sisters of the Poor. The suit was an attempt to force them to violate their consciences by providing coverage of contraception and abortifacients to employees. The Little Sisters of the Poor have appeared before the Supreme Court multiple times, repeatedly asking for, and consistently winning, a religious exemption to the contraceptive mandate from the Affordable Care Act and resulting HHS regulations.

As a member of the House of Representatives, Becerra voted regularly against life-protecting and life-saving bills, including voting against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. He also voted against the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which would have prevented the federal government from denying federal funds to Catholic hospitals and other facilities that refuse to perform abortions. Additionally, he opposed investigating Planned Parenthood’s sale of “fetal tissue” leftover from abortion procedures. 

In December 2020, when then President-elect Biden announced Becerra’s nomination for HHS, ERLC president Russell Moore said

“I expect that, as he undergoes the process of the Senate’s constitutional duty to advise and consent, senators will ask Xavier Becerra about his troubling hostility to pregnancy resource centers and other faith-based institutions during his tenure as California attorney general, and whether such actions would characterize his potential leadership at HHS. The country desperately needs an HHS Department that can help unify and mobilize, not one that will further divide us. The new HHS secretary, a position that is crucially important but never more so than during a global pandemic, should have the coronavirus as enemy number one, not Americans with differing religious convictions.”

What happened at the Senate hearings this week?

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) opened the hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions by highlighting Becarra’s experience as a congressman and as California’s attorney general. Democratic Senators tended to ask questions regarding Becerra’s commitment to healthcare access, high drug prices, and the vaccine rollout. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans raised concerns over rural healthcare funding, excessive government regulations, and abortion. 

Abortion was first brought up in Sen. Mike Braun’s (R-Ind.) opening question. Noting Becerra’s liberal history on the subject, Braun asked if he would commit to “not using taxpayer money to fund abortions and abortion providers.” Becerra largely dodged the question and said that he is “committed to following the law regarding federal resources,” which leaves the door open for taxpayer funded abortions should the Hyde Amendment be repealed — as congressional Democrats have signaled they will try to do this year. The Indiana Senator also mentioned Becerra’s antipathy toward religious liberty, specifically his actions against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Sen. Romney (R-Utah) also addressed abortion by pressing Becerra to explain his vote against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Becerra responded that he understands that people have deeply held beliefs and that he was sure they could find some “common ground.” However, Romney made it clear that while common ground is possible on many issues, it isn’t on partial-birth abortion. 

In the Senate Finance Committee hearing the next day, Becerra’s stances on abortion and religious liberty were questioned again by Republican lawmakers. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) began by stating that Becerra sued the federal government over 100 times as California’s attorney general — including multiple instances regarding conscience protections. In light of these lawsuits, Lankford asked if Becerra would “continue to enforce existing federal law on conscience issues” that he had argued against all the way to the Supreme Court. Lankford further pressed Becerra, asking whether or not faith-based entities would receive grants or aid “at the same level as non-faith based entities.” Becerra struggled to respond and pivoted towards a general response that he would uphold the laws as written. 

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said that he has serious concerns regarding Becerra’s “extreme” stance on both abortion and religious liberty. He asked Becerra if he could name “one abortion restriction he might support.” Once again, he responded with his increasingly common refrain that he would simply “follow the law.” 

After a brief recess, Becerra failed to answer any more substantively when Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) pressed him on enforcing Obamacare’s contraception mandate and accused him of “bullying” the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC joined more than 60 pro-life organizations to send a Congressional letter highlighting concerns with Becerra’s nomination. Additionally, the ERLC submitted amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on the cases which Becerra antagonized the Little Sisters of the Poor and NIFLA.

What’s next?

If he passes both committee votes, Becerra will receive a floor vote and would need 50 votes to be confirmed. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) identifies as pro-life and has previously voted in favor of pro-life pieces of legislation such as the Born-Alive bill and the Pain Capable bill. It’s unclear whether Manchin will raise concerns about Becerra’s troubling pro-abortion track record. The ERLC will continue to be a voice for the voiceless and defend the lives of the unborn and the vulnerable.