By / Oct 10

In December 2022, Congress passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), a pro-life bill that aimed to make the workplace more accessible to pregnant women by requiring employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This bill was implemented at the end of June 2023. However, a federal agency is manipulating the bill’s language to require that employers provide accommodations for abortion.

What the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was supposed to achieve

Sponsors of the bill repeatedly stated that the PWFA was a low-impact bill that would only require “common sense” accommodations—a bottle of water, relief from carrying heavy objects, a stool—to ensure pregnant women can safely remain in the workforce. On the surface, this legislation was promising from a pro-life perspective because it removes barriers to women choosing life instead of abortion. For example, lower income women would be able to work later in their pregnancy, financially equipping them to care for their precious preborn life. 

As a result, the PWFA received broad bipartisan support in Congress and from a variety of advocacy groups. Pro-labor groups were supportive of the labor protections it provided to pregnant workers, and many pro-life groups were supportive of the opportunity to help pregnant women choose the path of life.

What happened during the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act? 

However, the initial bipartisan support for the PWFA has not continued into the implementation of the bill. The PWFA requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an undue hardship.” However, the bill does not define what is considered a “reasonable accommodation,” or what is considered a “related medical condition.”

When there is such vague language included in a bill, Congress will often delegate implementation of the bill to a federal agency. The agency will then release additional guidance, known as “rulemaking,” which dictates how the bill will be implemented. At that point, entities like the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) can submit comments on the rulemaking that share concerns regarding such guidance.

In the case of the PWFA, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was given rulemaking authority. In July, the rules were released, and they directly contradicted the intent of Congress. Not only was “reasonable accommodation” interpreted to include additional paid leave, but the EEOC included abortion in the definition of “related medical conditions.” The PWFA would now essentially require employers to provide medical leave for women to end the life of their child through an abortion.

Such rulemaking directly contradicts the intent of Congress and the pro-life advocacy groups who hoped the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would help mothers choose life. 

The bill’s primary Democratic sponsor, Sen. Casey, assured pro-life organizations that the bill was “straightforward … [and would] allow pregnant workers to request reasonable accommodations so that they can continue working safely during pregnancy and upon returning to work after childbirth.” 

The bill’s primary Republican sponsor, Sen. Cassidy, echoed those assurances and strongly opposed the EEOC’s actions saying, “These regulations completely disregard legislative intent and attempt to rewrite the law by regulation…The decision to disregard the legislative process to inject a political abortion agenda is illegal and deeply concerning.” 

These statements alone should unequivocally eliminate abortion from being considered a pregnancy related medical condition.

How the ERLC responded 

Every life matters because every life is created in the image of God. Therefore, the ERLC responded to this rule by submitting public comments, pushing back on the EEOC’s attempt to insert abortion into a life-affirming law. In these comments, the ERLC shared the longstanding history of Southern Baptists in advocating for pro-life legislation, supporting pregnant mothers, and opposing overreach by the federal government to subsidize the abortion industry. 

God has spoken clearly throughout Scripture to the value and dignity of every human being as created in the image of God and to the goodness of his design for every aspect of human life in accordance with his will (Gen. 1:26-30; Matt. 19:4; Luke 12:22–31; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; 1 Pet. 1:13-16). 

It is clear that the intent of Congress in passing the PWFA was to help pregnant mothers have healthy pregnancies and babies, not to expand access to abortion. The ERLC will continue to advocate for healthy mothers and preborn babies and urges Southern Baptists to join us in praying for abortion to be removed from the list of pregnancy related medical conditions. 

Additionally, we urge the sponsors of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to exhibit leadership and boldness by safeguarding the responsibility of Congress to legislate fairly and honestly and resist the urge to cave to the EEOC’s deceptive approach to rulemaking through filing public comments of their own. In doing so, the ERLC believes both the lives of preborn children and the consciences of employers will be protected.

By / Sep 27

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has a full-time presence in Washington, D.C., based out of the Leland House, and has a scope of policy work that covers religious liberty, life, human dignity, and marriage and family. In the following interview, President Brent Leatherwood discusses the fundamentals of representing Southern Baptists on the Hill and the ultimate work the ERLC hopes to accomplish. 

Jill Waggoner: What is the ERLC? What do we do here?

Brent Leatherwood: When we are talking to the man on the street, we tend to describe the ERLC as the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. What that means on a practical level is that we speak both for and from our churches. I use that purposely because we can only effectively speak in the public square for our churches if we are actually working alongside and serving our churches. I like to tell people it is from that service that we’re rendering to our churches that we’re able to effectively speak on the issues of the day, the issues that our churches are dealing with, or the issues that may affect their ability to do ministry. 

We have been doing this for over 100 years now, and I’d like to remind folks that this institution has always sought to be a voice that represents the principles of our convention of churches, whether that’s to policymakers or to the media. We’re always trying to make sure that we are bringing the thoughts, cares, and principles that guide our churches to the issues of the day.

JW: There are a lot of groups in Washington, D.C., advocating for their various policy concerns. What is so unique about the ERLC and our role on Capitol Hill?

BL: The best way I can answer that question is from an experience I had last summer on Capitol Hill. We were invited into a meeting with a U.S. senator who was looking forward, at that point, to the post-Roe moment when there would be no more Roe v. Wade. This senator was saying, 

“I brought you here to this meeting because I really want to map out what actual pro-family policy will look like. And I want you as representatives of the ERLC to be here because I look at you and I know that you are guided by eternal and unchanging truths. And I can’t say that about a number of other organizations that do good work in Washington. Oftentimes, they are driven by political items, the political calendar, or maybe even sometimes political expediency.” 

Knowing that a U.S. senator recognizes that about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is the best kind of endorsement that I could offer here, because it shows that we are different than a number of our peers. A lot of our peers do really good work, but oftentimes they want to do that work and immediately turn it into fundraising appeals or trying to get some sort of grassroots activism.

Instead, we’re coming because we’re saying, “This is what our pastors care about. This is what Southern Baptists have said they care about. This is what the Bible has to say about this issue.” And that really resonates with those policymakers because they have a number of activists and lobbyists in their ear at any given time. But when they invite us to the table, they know that they’re getting something that has a much longer-range view in mind.

JW: In broad terms, what do we hope to accomplish with the ERLC’s policy work?

BL: At a basic level, we want to make this a better world. We live in this time between times—a fallen world that is racked by sin. In a sense, we’re doing Kingdom work because we are trying to point policymakers toward a better world. And that Kingdom that we learn about in Scripture actually has principles that can be enacted now. That’s what we’re driving for. It’s a hope-filled kind of work, knowing that at the end of the day, for eternal flourishing, one needs to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

In a conversation with a member of Congress, a staff member for a senator, or some other representative from the committees on Capitol Hill, we may not get a policy passed, but you never know how those conversations are allowing you to plant gospel seeds in that person’s life.

That reality underlies the work that we do, whether it’s at the federal, state, or local level. Are we always being attuned to how the Lord might be opening an avenue to spread the gospel? I never want to diminish or forget that because I think, in many respects, the work that we do on Capitol Hill or in the policy arena is akin to missional work. We are missionaries in the public square.

For more on the ERLC’s policy work, listen to this episode of the ERLC Podcast.

By / Sep 21

On today’s episode we’re going to take a break from our series on gender and sexuality to talk about our public policy work to share how the ERLC advocates in Washington, D.C. 

Many of our listeners have expressed a desire to better understand the ERLC’s public policy work. September is the perfect time to share about this area of our ministry assignment because it’s an important month in our nation’s Capitol and a busy time for our D.C. team, specifically. Hannah Daniel, our ERLC policy manager who works in our nation’s capital, and our president Brent Leatherwood will break down the what, how, and why of how the ERLC advocates in Washington, D.C.

We would love to hear from you. We want to know what policy issues are affecting your life as and what questions you’re facing related to issues of gender and sexuality. You can email us at [email protected]

And just a reminder, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work the ERLC is doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. 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. Become an email subscriber at erlc.com/updates

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

Thanks for listening, and we’re looking forward to being back together with you next time.

By / Apr 6

On this episode, Lindsay Nicolets talks with Hannah Daniel about Supreme Court opinions she’s anticipating this summer and what implications they will have for free speech and religious liberty. 

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  • Racial unity | If we, as Southern Baptists, can be willing to listen and have good conversations about race, we will see fruit that will draw us closer together. That’s why we believe that A Conversation with Pastor Jon Nelson will be a helpful resource for you and your congregation. Watch this NEW video at ERLC.com/racialunity and listen as Jon candidly shares his thoughts on how we can meaningfully partner together on this work within our churches and communities. Again that link is ERLC.com/racialunity
  • 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 / Mar 31

In this episode, Lindsay talks with Dana Hall McCain about her career as a writer, the intersection of faith and public policy, and how Christians can contribute to a healthy public square. They also discuss social media, pro-life issues, and what’s important for Southern Baptists in this particular culture.

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  • Racial unity | If we, as Southern Baptists, can be willing to listen and have good conversations about race, we will see fruit that will draw us closer together. That’s why we believe that A Conversation with Pastor Jon Nelson will be a helpful resource for you and your congregation. Watch this NEW video at ERLC.com/racialunity and listen as Jon candidly shares his thoughts on how we can meaningfully partner together on this work within our churches and communities. Again that link is ERLC.com/racialunity
  • 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 / Mar 17

On this episode, Lindsay Nicolet talks with Hannah Daniel about the Equal Rights Amendment and why it’s harmful, especially to women. We also discuss a review of states policies that cover the areas of human dignity, religious liberty, family and marriage, and the sanctity of human life. 

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  • Racial unity | If we, as Southern Baptists, can be willing to listen and have good conversations about race, we will see fruit that will draw us closer together. That’s why we believe that A Conversation with Pastor Jon Nelson will be a helpful resource for you and your congregation. Watch this NEW video at ERLC.com/racialunity and listen as Jon candidly shares his thoughts on how we can meaningfully partner together on this work within our churches and communities. Again that link is ERLC.com/racialunity
  • 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 / Mar 15

Across the nation state legislative sessions are underway. Though we typically think of Washington, D.C., as the primary location for policy change, the realities of a polarized nation and nearly evenly divided federal legislature make it difficult for substantial decisions to be made at a national level. As a result, state legislatures are in a position to make more consequential decisions in the policy areas that Southern Baptists care about and have addressed.

One of the ministry assignments of the ERLC is to assist churches through the communication and advocacy of moral and ethical concerns in the public arena. While the public arena is often thought of federally, it is also just as important locally. We will continue to serve and partner with state conventions and state advocacy groups on the issues of missional priority that are not just of national importance, but state importance as well.

Perhaps the best picture of state-level engagement has been seen in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Since the historic Dobbs decision, the pro-life movement has significantly shifted focus to the states. Though there certainly remains a role for federal legislation, it is now up to each state to decide the status of abortion. As a result, there is a greater opportunity than ever before for the citizens of each state to advocate for both protections for the preborn and care for vulnerable mothers. We’ve already seen creative action from several states to do more to meet the needs of abortion-vulnerable women and empower them to choose life in their states. 

Beyond protecting life, there are several other issues being legislated at the state level that are of interest to Southern Baptists. Just as the ERLC advocates for life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity at the national level, many of these same issues are currently being considered in state legislatures. Some of these include gambling, conscience protections for medical professionals, gender-transition procedures, the abortion pill, predatory lending, and more. 

The following review is not an exhaustive list of policy priorities but just a few examples of current debates happening at the state level where Southern Baptists may choose to engage. Regardless of the current state or outcome of these specific pieces of legislation, we look at these policies to chart a hopeful vision for the landscape of state legislatures in this season and years to come. Our hope is that this document will serve as a framework for engagement as believers and policymakers alike review the thousands of proposals made in each state this legislative session. For any of these proposals, we would encourage interested readers to engage with their Baptist state convention whose team will have the latest information about developments related to these bills.

Religious Liberty 

The Baptist Faith and Message summarizes the biblical teaching on religious liberty and freedom of conscience, a distinctive passed down to us from our Baptist forefathers and foremothers, some of whom were imprisoned or executed as they stood for these truths. Moreover, our Baptist ancestors in the United States were instrumental in the crafting and adoption of the First Amendment to our Constitution, which guarantees free exercise of religion for all, and forbids the establishment of a religion. Recent years have seen simultaneous gains for religious freedom in the courts and threats from administrative and legislative action. The following issues are a few areas where we see key debates about religious liberty happening in the states:

Support conscience protections for healthcare workers

No healthcare worker should feel compelled to compromise their deeply held beliefs in order to continue serving others. Now, both in a post-Roe world and as our country’s views on issues of sexuality and gender have shifted rapidly, healthcare providers are being increasingly mandated to participate in or provide insurance coverage for procedures and practices that conflict with their religiously-informed consciences. In the states, there are opportunities to advocate for the protection of consciences in legislation. This session, Kentucky is one state considering such legislation:

  • House Bill 58 seeks to prevent any discrimination or criminal action against a medical practitioner, health care institution, or health care payer who chooses to not participate in a health care service on the basis of conscience.

Southern Baptists spoke to conscience protections at the 2019 annual meeting through a Resolution on Protecting Religious Liberty and at the 2016 annual meeting through the Resolution on Biblical Sexuality and The Freedom Of Conscience.

Support state Religious Freedom Restoration Act efforts

In 1993 Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which served the purpose of preventing other laws passed on the federal level from inducing a substantial burden on an individual’s religious freedom. Many Supreme Court cases have relied on RFRA in rulings, one most notably being Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. The original intent was for RFRA to apply to all three branches of government and both federal and state governments. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the application of RFRA to the states was an overreach. In response, 23 states have passed their own RFRA. This session, there are more states considering a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and we want to see more do the same. One such state is Michigan:

  • The Michigan Religious Freedom Act would limit the state of Michigan’s governmental actions that would cause a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of free religion.

Southern Baptists spoke to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the 2016 annual meeting through the Resolution on Biblical Sexuality and The Freedom Of Conscience.

Protect the religious liberty of foster care and adoption service providers

Across the country, child welfare and child protection systems are overcrowded and under significant strain. Unfortunately, it is in this context that some states and cities are working to exclude child welfare providers who seek to operate in a manner consistent with their religious convictions. This leads to fewer families available for foster care and adoption. Legislation is needed that would prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their beliefs and ultimately protect children in the foster system and children waiting for adoption by ensuring that a wide range of child welfare providers are available to serve them. This session, Iowa is one state considering such legislation: 

  • Senate Bill 119 aims to protect the rights of “any person that advertises, provides, or facilitates adoption or foster care” and their religious beliefs. Our hope is that more states pursue legislation similar to this in an effort to preserve religious liberty and help vulnerable children find a place to call home.

 Southern Baptists spoke to religious liberty at the 2019 annual meeting through a Resolution on Protecting Religious Liberty.

Sanctity of Human Life

The Baptist Faith and Message summarizes the biblical revelation that every person bears the image of God, and thus, is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, level of ability, or stage of development. 2022 was a monumental year for life in the United States. After 50 years of dedicated advocacy, the disastrous precedents in Roe and Casey were overturned, sending the issue of abortion largely back to the states. While there certainly is a role for the federal government to play, states now primarily have the responsibility to restrict and regulate abortion. Some states have already completely banned abortion while others have worked to become “abortion destinations.” Each state has unique challenges and opportunities to protect the preborn. The following issues are a few areas where we see key debates about life happening in the states:

Oppose any efforts to expand abortion access or enshrine a constitutional right to abortion

Since the Dobbs decision, many states are working to enshrine and expand abortion access and become “abortion destinations,” even going as far as considering constitutional amendments to safeguard future access to abortion. Others are considering efforts to repeal the pro-life laws currently in effect in their states. This session, many state legislatures are considering such bills that would expand abortion access and take more preborn lives. Three examples of this type of legislation being considered are:

  • The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protection for Health and Safety is a constitutional amendment proposed in Ohio which will make abortion a constitutional right within the state. 
  • Alabama House Bill 17 would repeal Alabama’s current pro-life law that charges “any person who induces or attempts to induce an abortion, miscarriage, or premature delivery” with a misdemeanor. 
  • Maryland House Bill 705 would amend the Maryland Constitution to enshrine “reproductive rights,” codifying a right to abortion. Other states, such as California, are pursuing similar strategies. We believe Southern Baptists should unequivocally oppose the codifying of abortion in any state.

Southern Baptists spoke to abortion at 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Anticipation of a Historic Moment in the Pro-life Movement

Support further efforts to restrict abortion through pro-life laws and constitutional amendments as we work toward its end

Since the Dobbs decision, many states have already taken significant steps to restrict or make abortion illegal in their state. It is our hope that other states will follow their lead and take further steps to protect the preborn. While attainable pro-life victories will look different across the country, it is important that each state work toward any positive steps it can to save lives. Some states that already have laws to protect life are considering further steps to amend the state constitution, ensuring that abortion has no place in their state. This session, multiple states are considering bills that would take steps toward the end of abortion:

  • Missouri Senate Joint Resolution 8 would amend Missouri’s constitution to ban the expenditure of taxpayer money to any clinic, office, or facility which plays any role in the inducing or performing of abortions.
  • North Carolina House Bill 31 would outlaw abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected with exceptions for a “medical emergency.” The bill would also provide conscience protections for healthcare workers who do not wish to participate in abortion procedures because of their beliefs.

Southern Baptists spoke to abortion at 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Anticipation of a Historic Moment in the Pro-life Movement

Support efforts to end the proliferation of chemical abortions

Chemical abortion (sometimes referred to as medication abortion or the abortion pill) is a method that uses an abortifacient to stimulate uterine contractions and end the pregnancy in a process similar to a natural miscarriage. As surgical abortion procedures have declined, chemical abortions have risen, making up 53% of the total in 2020. As many states severely restricted or banned access to abortion following the Dobbs decision, it is likely that this number will continue rising. These drugs not only take the life of a preborn child but also pose serious threats to the women who take them. However, the FDA in 2021 moved to increase access by permanently allowing these abortion pills to be delivered by mail. In January of 2023, the FDA moved to allow local retail pharmacies to dispense these drugs in states where it is legal, furthering the accessibility of these life-taking drugs and putting more women and preborn children at risk. This session, one state considering legislation to regulate this predatory industry is Wyoming:

  • Senate Bill 109 prohibits manufacturing, distributing, prescribing, dispensing, selling, or transferring of any chemical abortion drug for the purpose of procuring or performing an abortion.

Southern Baptists spoke to abortion at 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Anticipation of a Historic Moment in the Pro-life Movement

Southern Baptists spoke to abortion causing drugs at the 2019 annual meeting through a Resolution on Protecting Religious Liberty

Oppose physician-assisted suicide and all euthanasia efforts

Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, as well as Montana by court decision. This is a practice in clear conflict with ethical principles of the Bible and from both a biblical worldview and the Hippocratic tradition. There is currently a concerted effort in several states to legalize and expand this practice. This session, New York is one such state considering such legislation:

  • The Medical Aid in Dying Act would add a new article to the public health law allowing terminally-ill patients to request and use medication to end their lives.

Southern Baptists spoke to physician-assisted suicide at the 1996 annual meeting through the Resolution On Assisted Suicide.

Family and Marriage

The Baptist Faith and Message affirms the biblical teaching that “God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.” It continues in saying that “Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” These gifts of marriage and family are creation ordinances and blessings from God, foundational to human flourishing. States have many opportunities to advocate for policies that maintain and protect these essential aspects of life together. The following issues are a few areas where we see key debates about marriage and family happening in the states:

Support pro-family policy in a post-Roe world

If the family is the most foundational unit of society, it is crucial that all aspects of policy provide a platform for families to thrive and flourish. An essential aspect of our advocacy for life in this new, post-Roe world must be for policies that address financial insecurity and other key factors that drive women to seek abortions. States have the opportunity to pursue policies that remedy marriage penalties, empower abortion-vulnerable women to choose life, and provide baseline levels of support for new parents. This is consistent with the 2022 SBC Resolution that urged a focus on “pro-life and pro-family policies that serve and support vulnerable women, children, and families” as we work to “eliminate any perceived need for the horror of abortion.” Two examples of such proposals are:

  • Indiana House Bill 1009 would increase the responsibility of the father in regards to assisting the mother with pregnancy expenses. Indiana already orders the father to help support various pregnancy expenses, but this bill narrowly adds “postpartum expenses” and “other necessary expenses incurred in connection with the child’s birth” to the list of covered expenses.
  • Tennessee Senate Bill 529 aims to help families by waiving sales and use tax on diapers, wipes, and infant formula, helping families better take care of their children and assisting vulnerable mothers in choosing life.

Southern Baptists spoke to pro-family policy at the 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Anticipation of a Historic Moment in the Pro-life Movement.

Support adoption and foster care policies

The defense of vulnerable children is woven through a wide variety of policies, from religious liberty concerns involved in adoption and foster care to the various support of families as they work to take care of children in the adoption and foster care system. States should pursue policies that would support and strengthen adoption, making it both more affordable and accessible. Some states are already taking proactive steps to support vulnerable children, and this session, two of those states are South Carolina and New Hampshire:

  • House Bill 3593 in South Carolina would provide a tax credit for any adoption expenses incurred with a domestic adoption. This legislation helps raise the economic burden of adoption on families with an aim for more families being able to adopt.
  • Senate Bill 172 in New Hampshire would extend Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits to foster families and court appointed guardians who had been previously excluded from the program.

Southern Baptists spoke to adoption and foster care at the 2009 annual meeting through the Resolution On Adoption and Orphan Care

Advocate for a biblical view of gender and sexuality

Scripture is clear that marriage is between one man and woman, and that every person is made in the image of God. Our culture is radically turning aways from this foundational biblical view of gender and sexuality, and the repercussions are devastating. States have many opportunities to push back against harmful gender-transition practices and affirm the foundational rights of parents in decision-making regarding their children. Two examples of legislation pursuing those goals are:

  • Tennessee’s Youth Health Protection Act seeks to make it unlawful for a minor to undergo any medical practice which changes the minor’s presentation or appearance in a way that is contradictory to their biological sex. The law also protects parental rights and state funds. House Bill 470, in Kentucky, is another example of a proposal seeking to protect children from these procedures.
  • Georgia’s Parents and Children Protection Act of 2023 would increase the rights of parents in schools and require parental consent to discuss sensitive topics surrounding gender and sexuality and for a student to be recognized as being of a different gender.

Southern Baptists spoke to a biblical view of gender and sexuality at the 2014 annual meeting through the Resolution On Transgender Identity

Human Dignity

The Baptist Faith and Message both affirms the biblical revelation that every person bears the image of God, and thus, is worthy of protection and dignity, regardless of age, level of ability, or stage of development and echoes the biblical mandate to seek justice and righteousness, especially for those who are vulnerable. God revealed in the words of the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8) In our advocacy for fair and impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the unjustly oppressed and marginalized, we bear witness to a God who is ultimately the just Judge, and to a gospel that saves all who believe without partiality. States have a number of opportunities to enact policies that recognize the dignity of all. The following issues are a few areas where we see key debates about human dignity happening in the states:

Oppose the legalization and expansion of recreational marijuana

According to the CDC, the use of mairjuana can have significant effects on a person’s brain, specifically relating to memory, learning, decision-making, and other traits. As Christians we believe in the imago Dei, that all people were made in the image of God, that includes not only spirit, but body as well. The effects of marijuana not only negatively impact the user but also can be a detriment to relationships and families. This session, Oklahoma was one state considering expanding access to this harmful substance:

  • SQ820 was a ballot initiative for Oklahoma voters which would have officially legalized marijuana in the state for people over the age of 21. If passed, personal use of marijuana would have become legal, regulated, and taxed. Thankfully, Oklahoma voters defeated this ballot initiative in early March. This defeat serves an encouraging roadmap for other states to oppose the legalization and expansion of recreational marijuana.

Southern Baptists spoke to recreational marijuana at the 1973 annual meeting through the Resolution On Alcohol And Other Drugs

Oppose the expansion of gambling and sports betting

As nearly every state across the country has loosened restrictions on gambling, Americans spent approximately $213 billion on legal betting alone in 2021. Online sports betting has spread rapidly, making it easier than ever to become trapped in the addictive and destructive cycle of gambling. Churches across the convention have repeatedly shared that this issue is a key driver in the tearing apart of marriages and families in their congregations. This session, Georgia is one such state considering this type of legislation:

  • The Georgia Sports Betting Integrity Act will legalize online sports betting in the state. Sports betting has rapidly spread across the country and is quickly trapping many through its addictive, predatory nature. Many other states have recently legalized sports betting or are considering doing so.

Southern Baptists spoke to gambling at the 2017 annual meeting through the Resolution On The Sin Of Gambling.

Support payday lending regulations

Payday lending is an industry that preys on the poor through offering short-term, small-dollar loans at exorbitantly high interest rates. The average annual interest rate on a payday loan is 400%, trapping the poor in cycles of despair and debt. These practices should be regulated to restrict this industry’s ability to prey on the poor among us. This session, South Carolina is one state considering this type of action:

  • Senate Bill 67 would cap the effective annual percentage interest rate at 36% for payday loans.

Southern Baptists spoke to payday lending at the 2014 annual meeting through the Resolution On Predatory Payday Lending

Support efforts to combat and prevent sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is an evil that the SBC will unequivocally fight against. We first and foremost wish to see a world in which no one suffers any kind of abuse. Subsequently, we recognize the necessity of  just policies that will prevent abuse and serve justice to abusers. Mississippi and Washington are taking proactive steps toward combatting sexual abuse:

  • Mississippi House Bill 1371 addresses the behavior of physicians, therapists, clergy, or spiritual leaders in relation to someone in their care. This legislation addresses mandatory reporting and increases the scope of available disciplinary actions and criminal punishments for abusers.
  • Washington Senate Bill 5280 expands mandated reporter requirements regarding child abuse or neglect to clergy, with an exception for information obtained by clergy while performing their duties in receiving confession.

Southern Baptists spoke to sexual abuse at the 2022 annual meeting through the Resolution On Support for Consistent Laws Regarding Pastoral Sexual Abuse and at the 2019 annual meeting through the Resolution On The Evil Of Sexual Abuse.

Support efforts to improve prisoner reentry

True justice executed by the government not only punishes wrongdoers but also upholds the dignity of both parties and provides a path toward reconciliation for the offender. Oftentimes, the formerly incarcerated face significant challenges in obtaining housing, education, and employment, making reentry into society more difficult and recidivism more likely. States have an opportunity to support policy changes that strengthen families and reintegrate past offenders to their communities. One state considering such legislation is Oklahoma.

  • Senate Bill 11 removes barriers to state financial aid for incarcerated students allowing for greater opportunities and lower risk of recidivism upon reentry. 

Southern Baptists spoke to prison reentry at the 2013 annual meeting through the Resolution On America’s Growing Prison Population.

By / Mar 15

Across the nation state legislative sessions are underway. Though we typically think of Washington, D.C., as the primary location for policy change, the realities of a polarized nation and nearly evenly divided federal legislature make it difficult for substantial decisions to be made at a national level. As a result, state legislatures are in a position to make more consequential decisions in the policy areas that Southern Baptists care about and have addressed.

One of the ministry assignments of the ERLC is to assist churches through the communication and advocacy of moral and ethical concerns in the public arena. While the public arena is often thought of federally, it is also just as important locally. We will continue to serve and partner with state conventions and state advocacy groups on the issues of missional priority that are not just of national importance, but state importance as well.

A picture of state-level engagement 

Perhaps the best picture of state-level engagement has been seen in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

Since the historic Dobbs decision, the pro-life movement has substantially shifted focus to the states. Though there certainly remains a role for federal legislation, it is now up to each state to decide the status of abortion. As a result, there is now a greater opportunity than ever before for the citizens of each state to advocate for both protections for the pre-born and care for vulnerable mothers. We’ve already seen creative action from several states to do more to meet the needs of abortion-vulnerable women and empower them to choose life in their states. 

Other issues of interest 

Beyond protecting life, there are several other issues being legislated at the state level that are of interest to Southern Baptists. Just as the ERLC advocates for life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity at the national level, many of these same issues are currently being considered in state legislatures. Some of these include gambling, conscience protections for medical professionals, gender-transition procedures, the abortion pill, predatory lending, and more. 

This review is not an exhaustive list of policy priorities but just a few examples of current debates happening at the state level where Southern Baptists may choose to engage. Regardless of the current state or outcome of these specific pieces of legislation, we look at these policies to chart a hopeful vision for the landscape of state legislatures in this season and years to come. 

Our hope is that this document will serve as a framework for engagement as believers and policymakers alike review the thousands of proposals made in each state this legislative session. For any of these proposals, we would encourage interested readers to engage with their Baptist state convention whose team will have the latest information about developments related to these bills.

Read the full ERLC 2023 State Policy Review

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 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.”