By / Aug 31

We’ve been working behind the scenes and are excited to announce an all new ERLC Podcast. While the format is new, our goal for the podcast remains the same. The ERLC seeks to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues.

We’ve been listening to you to better understand the questions you’re facing and how the ERLC can help on matters related to marriage and family, life, religious liberty, and human dignity. 

On this updated format of the ERLC Podcast, we want to give you brief, informed, practical, and biblically-based answers to important cultural issues.

You are not the only one asking these questions. Just like you, we want to hold fast to the teachings of Scripture as we seek to raise our families, serve our churches, and love our neighbors in an ever-evolving and often challenging cultural landscape. 

Join us starting in September as we look to the Bible for wisdom, hear from trusted voices, and break down complex issues so that we can live in the world, but not of it—all for the sake of the gospel.

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By / Aug 3

A survey by Pew Research taken in 2019 found the vast majority of Christian teenagers (86%) attend public schools. Even among evangelicals, the Christian group with the most children being homeschooled or in private school, the rate is more than 3 in 4 (82%). Yet while most teens (68%) report seeing at least one type of religious expression or activities in their public schools often or sometimes, fewer than half (41%) say they commonly see more than one of the most common religious behaviors, such as praying at lunch or inviting a classmate to church.

The reason for the lack of expression may be because students have misperceptions of what is allowed in public schools. Many students and parents are aware that the U.S. Constitution, through the First Amendment, guarantees the right of freedom of religion and expression for every citizen. But they might not know that these rights don’t end when students step onto school grounds or when parents interact with public educational institutions.

Here’s an overview of these rights and how they apply to Christian parents and students in public schools:

The right to pray — While mandatory prayer orchestrated by schools is unconstitutional, students have the right to pray voluntarily. This means Christian students can pray before meals, before tests, or during any free moments. They can do so individually or in groups, as long as it’s not disruptive. Additionally, schools cannot interfere with or discourage these private prayers.

The right to express religious beliefs — Students have the right to express their beliefs in assignments, artwork, or other school activities unless it disrupts the educational process. For instance, if a student decides to write an essay on Jesus as their hero, they should be graded based on the quality of their work, not penalized because of the religious content.

The right to form religious clubs — Under the Equal Access Act, if a school allows non-curricular clubs, it cannot deny students the right to form religious clubs, including Christian clubs or pro-life clubs. These clubs should have the same access to facilities and announcement systems as other clubs.

The right to wear religious symbols — In general, Christian students have the right to wear religious symbols. However, any restrictions should be consistent and apply to all type of belief or non-belief. For instance, if a school bans all necklaces for safety reasons, then this would apply to religious symbols as well.

Opting out of assignments or activities — Christian parents have the right to request that their child be exempt from an activity or assignment that conflicts with their religious beliefs. Schools usually handle this on a case-by-case basis, but generally, an alternative assignment or activity will be provided.

Access to religious materials — Just as students can access non-religious materials in school libraries, they should be able to access Bibles or other Christian literature. Schools cannot prevent students from reading religious materials during free reading times.

Celebrating religious holidays — While public schools can’t endorse or promote a particular religious holiday, they can teach about them. Students are also allowed to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” and share their personal beliefs about these holidays.

Distribution of religious material — While schools can set limits on where and when materials are distributed to prevent disruption, they can’t single out religious materials for special restrictions. If a student wants to hand out Christian flyers or invitations to a church event, they have that right, given that they follow the same rules applied to non-religious materials.

The right to involve legal authorities or counsel — If Christian parents or students believe their rights are being violated, they have every right to seek legal advice or involve authorities to ensure their rights are upheld.

It’s important to note that while Christian students and parents have these rights, we also have the responsibility to exercise our liberty in a respectful manner and in a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others (Romans 12:18). Mutual respect and understanding are key to coexisting harmoniously in an educational setting where there is a diversity of religions and belief systems.

Public schools serve a diverse population, and while they are secular institutions, they should respect and accommodate the religious freedoms of all students and parents, including Christians. Awareness of these rights ensures that Christian parents and students can confidently navigate the public school system while upholding our religious beliefs and expressions.

By / Jul 7

During the last week of June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings in two cases—303 Creative v. Elenis and Groff v. Dejoy—to further protect free speech and religious liberty as basic rights of Americans. Here’s the run-down of what you should know about two of the most important cases of the Supreme Court’s latest term.

303 Creative v. Elenis

The overview: The 303 Creative case was a legal dispute involving graphic designer Lorie Smith who, because of her Christian beliefs about marriage, refused to create a website for a same-sex wedding. The case was about whether a state public accommodation law violates the First Amendment’s free speech protections.

The Colorado law: The law in question is the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which expanded anti-discrimination protections in such a way that businesses are required to offer the same services to same-sex couples that they offer to heterosexual couples. The case was first filed in 2016, and the district court concluded that applying CADA to 303 Creative is constitutional. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed.

The Supreme Court ruling: However, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the graphic designer’s free speech, stating that the government cannot compel an individual to speak a certain way or to promote a message with which they disagree. The court specifically clarified that the First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs that require her to include messages with which the designer disagrees. 

The implications to protect free speech: The court’s decision in the 303 Creative case is expected to have a significant impact on the free speech rights of all Americans by reaffirming the right to engage in free speech without worrying about legal repercussions from public officials.

For more on the 303 Creative case, see: Explainer: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Free Speech in 303 Creative Case

Groff v. Dejoy

The overview: The Groff v. DeJoy case was an employment dispute involving postal Gerald Groff, a Sabbatarian Christian whose beliefs make him unavailable for work on Sundays. Groff claimed that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) violated his religious freedom by requiring him to work on Sundays delivering packages for Amazon. 

The USPS’ response: The USPS offered Groff certain “accommodations” such as offering to adjust his schedule so he could come to work after religious services or telling him he should see if other workers could pick up his shifts. The USPS even suggested Groff choose a different day to observe the Sabbath. Groff claimed that these supposed accommodations did not eliminate the conflict between his religious practice and his work obligations, and that the USPS had therefore not provided him with a reasonable accommodation.

The lower court ruling: The lower court had ruled against Groff, holding that his request would cause an undue hardship on the USPS and lead to low morale at the workplace when other employees had to pick up his shifts. The lower court ruling relied on the “undue hardship” standard set in the 1977 case, Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison

The Supreme Court’s ruling: However, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in favor of Groff, stating that federal law requires an employer that denies an employee a religious accommodation must show that the burden of the accommodation would result in substantial increased costs. The ruling also clarifies the definition of “undue hardship” for employers faced with a religious accommodation request.

The implications in favor of religious liberty: The court’s decision strengthens religious liberty in the workplace and reaffirms that employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of religion. The ruling will impact the religious freedom rights of all Americans and reaffirms the right to practice one’s religion without fear of discrimination in the workplace.

For more on the Groff case, see: Explainer: Supreme Court Unanimously Rules in Favor of Religious Liberty in Postal Worker Case

By / Jul 5

Recent reports of intensifying religious persecution in India have exposed the increasingly dire state of religious freedom and human rights within the country.

In a joint statement released by the White House on June 22, President Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced several new technology, defense, and research initiatives that are set to bolster the economic ties between the United States and India. The statement came during Modi’s recent visit to Washington, D.C., signaling the Biden administration’s clear intent to further pivot U.S. foreign relations in the Indo-Pacific by privileging the nation which now boasts the largest democracy in the world with a greatly expanded trade partnership. 

Undoubtedly, this announcement will come as welcome news to many who are excited by the prospect of establishing India as a more reliable supplier of semiconductors to the U.S. and as a more militarily-secure neighbor to the Chinese Communist Party. 

Alarming reports about religious persecution in India 

In its 2023 report on religious liberty in India, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken designate India a “country of particular concern,” after finding increased instances of religious persecution in India against Muslims, Christians, and other religious minorities taking place on the “national, state, and local levels.” The report listed legal prohibitions against religious conversion as well as mob violence and sexual violence against religious minorities amongst the offenses observed by the commission. 

As such, it determined that India satisfies the International Religious Freedom Act’s definition of a country engaged in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom” and should face U.S. sanctions until these violations cease.  

According to a statistical analysis conducted by the Early Warning Project (EWP)—an operation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that works with publicly available data to identify social trends predictive of genocide—the religious violence in India has escalated so much in recent years that the nation currently ranks as the eighth most likely in the world to see a “new mass killing” over the next year. To understand just how real this looming threat of mass violence in India truly is, one need only look to the northeastern state of Manipur where, in just the last two months, mobs have burned down over 250 Christian churches in what some locals have reportedly described as a “state-sponsored pogrom.” 

The USCIRF and EWP reports both recognized the rise to power of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) within the Indian government since 2014 as the catalyst for much of this violence. The BJP is the party led by Modi that serves as the political embodiment of a radical Hindu nationalism which has become widespread in India. The party’s officials stand accused of intentionally stoking the fires of prejudice against the nation’s religious minorities and of working in tangent with extremist paramilitary groups committed to the formation of a true “Hindu state.” 

The U.S. response to religious persecution in India

Despite these alarming reports, the current administration has failed to act on USCIRF’s recommendation to designate Modi’s India as a “country of particular concern.” 

Modi was instead honored by the government with a state dinner and a congressional address during his recent visit to the U.S. capital. In his address to the nation’s lawmakers, Modi invoked the powerful memories of both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., insisting that India honors the legacies of these great men in that it demonstrates their shared democratic values of “equality and dignity” and is a “home to all faiths.” 

But with recent reports on the human rights abuses and the religious persecution currently transpiring in India, it seems unlikely that either Gandhi or King would recognize the brand of democracy and religious freedom found in Modi’s country today. And the Biden administration’s ongoing failure to officially acknowledge that reality by ignoring the appeal to designate India a “country of particular concern” spells only further dismay for India’s vulnerable religious minorities as the violent rhetoric and actions against them continue to intensify. 

Looking ahead

There is still hope that increased political pressure can move the current administration toward adopting the USCIRF recommendation. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) took Modi’s visit as an opportunity to introduce a resolution into the House that calls Blinken to acknowledge and act on the USCIRF report’s findings. 

The introduction of this resolution, alongside increased advocacy efforts on behalf of the religious minorities in India, should send a clear message to the current administration. It is not acceptable for our government to ignore the cries of persecuted people or look away from grave human rights abuses in order to advance economic, environmental, or geopolitical goals.

More must be done to hold India accountable for its role in allowing and facilitating persecution and abuse against religious minorities. Southern Baptists have long believed that the state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind and that the individual should be allowed to freely pursue the knowledge and love of God. The ERLC remains committed to advancing this position in the public square and will continue to advocate for the safety and freedom of religious minorities facing persecution in India and elsewhere.

By / Jun 29

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the Groff v Dejoy case that the United States Postal Service (USPS) wrongly denied a religious accommodation requested by petitioner Gerald Groff, a Pennsylvania postal worker. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the unanimous opinion of the court, with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson joining a concurring opinion.

ERLC’s President Brent Leatherwood, stated of this ruling:

“Despite some voices saying that Mr. Groff sought exceptional treatment, the court saw through that to the truth of the matter. He simply asked for a reasonable accommodation to live out the tenets of his faith. By siding with him, the court has again affirmed the importance of living in accordance with one’s deepest-held beliefs.

This is a victory for every American. Your profession of faith should not be a barrier to your professional vocation.”

What did the Groff v Dejoy decision say?

Today’s decision clarified that the court’s 1977 ruling in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, which had previously been used to often deny religious accommodations in the workplace, has been misinterpreted for decades and sought to clarify its ruling in favor of religious liberty. This clarification is a major victory for religious employees nationwide, as this Groff v Dejoy ruling will restore important protections especially crucial for those of minority religions. 

The Hardison decision was previously interpreted in such a way that limited and distorted the requirements of employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices by allowing employers to prove only a “minimal burden” to deny accommodations, known as the “de minimis” standard. This approach, as noted through amicus briefs by “a bevy of diverse religious organizations[,]. . .has blessed the denial of even minor accommodation in many cases, making it harder for members of minority faiths to enter the job market” (13).

However, as Justice Alito argued, this interpretation was a “mistaken view” (19). Instead, the court explains that:

“Showing ‘more than a de minimis cost,’ as that phrase is used in common parlance, does not suffice to establish ‘undue hardship’ under Title VII. Hardison cannot be reduced to that one phrase. In describing an employer’s ‘undue hardship’ defense, Hardison referred repeatedly to ‘substantial’ burdens, and that formulation better explains the decision. We therefore, like the parties, understand Hardison to mean that ‘undue hardship’ is shown when a burden is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business (15-16).”

This means that employers must meet a higher standard before denying religious accommodations requested by their employees. The court did not establish a one-size-fits-all method for determining what is a hardship but instead ruled that the context of each business and situation must be taken into account. Specifically for Gerald Groff, the court vacated the lower court’s previous decision and sent his specific case back to be reconsidered in light of this corrected interpretation of Hardison.

Why does this Groff v Dejoy decision matter for Southern Baptists?

Southern Baptists believe that we cannot separate our vocation from our deeply held beliefs. Our whole lives, including our work, are lived as service to the Lord. Employers must be required to do more in accommodating the needs of religious employees to allow them to continue serving in their vocation without compromising their beliefs. Religious liberty protects not only our freedom to believe but also our freedom to live out those beliefs in the public square.

As Southern Baptists, we also believe that religious liberty protects all people of all faiths. Religious accommodations are especially vital for members of minority religions whose needs and requests might not be widely understood.

Today’s ruling provides another major legal win in a long line of religious liberty victories. The court has proven, yet again, that religious liberties do not vanish when we walk into the workplace. Rather, as this case has demonstrated, federal law grants robust protections that allow all people of faith to fully live out their deeply held beliefs in the workplace.

What is this Groff v. Dejoy case about?

Gerald Groff began working as a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service (USPS) in 2012. As a Christian, Groff is compelled by his religious beliefs to observe a Sunday Sabbath. After USPS began delivering packages on Sunday for Amazon, Groff offered to take extra shifts on weekdays and holidays to avoid working on his Sabbath. USPS initially granted him an accommodation but then changed its mind and began scheduling Groff for Sunday shifts. Groff refused to violate his faith, so he faced termination until he ultimately resigned in 2019.

Groff subsequently sued USPS in federal court, claiming his employer failed to reasonably accommodate his religious conviction. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of USPS, and the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on April 18, 2023.

This case challenged the 1997 court holding in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison. The language of Hardison has long been interpreted as reducing the legal requirements of employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices. As such, up to this point, Hardison allowed employers to demonstrate only a “minimal burden,” rather than the much higher Title VII bar of “undue hardship,” to deny requests for religious accommodation. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects employees and job applicants from employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and natural origin.

How did the ERLC engage this case?

The ERLC filed an amicus brief alongside other religious organizations arguing that Hardison should be overturned and employers must meet a higher standard before denying accommodations to their religious employees. As our brief argues:

“Correctly interpreted, Title VII’s mandate to accommodate employees’ religion affirms this Nation’s fundamental commitment to religious freedom. That mandate embodies a careful balance between the right of workers to practice their religion without sacrificing their jobs and the ability of employers to maintain an effective workplace . . . A right that exists only when it bothers no one else is no right at all.”

The court acknowledged this point in the Groff v. Dejoy ruling, stating “diverse religious groups tell the Court that the ‘de minimis’ standard has been used to deny even minor accommodations.”

The ERLC will continue to advocate for our first freedoms, especially the right to express deeply held religious convictions in the workplace. The Supreme Court has once again affirmed a robust view of these foundational rights, and we are grateful that the justices have ruled in favor of religious liberty. As we have been tasked by Southern Baptists, the ERLC will always work for the protection of religious liberty before Congress, the courts, and in the public square.

By / Jun 29

Washington. D.C., June 29, 2023 —Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, applauded today’s unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Groff v Dejoy case, stating that it “is a victory for every American.”

In response to the ruling, Leatherwood said: 

“Despite some voices saying that Mr. Groff sought exceptional treatment, the court saw through that to the truth of the matter. He simply asked for a reasonable accommodation to live out the tenets of his faith. By siding with him, the court has again affirmed the importance of living in accordance with one’s deepest-held beliefs.

This is a victory for every American. Your profession of faith should not be a barrier to your professional vocation.”

What’s the takeaway from the ruling for religious liberty?

The court has clarified the interpretation of a previous ruling that was so often used to deny religious accommodation, was inaccurate. This ruling reflects a central argument from the ERLC brief. In today’s ruling, the justices clarified that the real standard requires employers to show a “substantial” burden before they can deny an employee the freedom to live according to their beliefs.

What did the ERLC brief say?

The ERLC filed an amicus brief in this case in support of United States Postal Service (USPS) employee Gerald Groff, alongside the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Anti-Defamation League. The brief argues that a previous ruling, Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, should be overturned.

The 1977 Hardison decision limited and distorted the requirements of employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices by allowing employers to prove only a “minimal burden” to deny accommodations, known as the “de minimis” standard.

The Groff v Dejoy case ruling stated “…diverse religious groups tell the Court that the ‘de minimis’ standard has been used to deny even minor accommodations.” This was a point made in the ERLC brief. 

What was the Groff v Dejoy case about?

Gerald Groff began working as a USPS carrier in 2012, and as a Christian, was compelled by his religious beliefs to observe the Sunday Sabbath. After USPS began delivering packages on Sunday for Amazon, Groff offered to take extra shifts on weekdays and holidays to avoid working on his Sabbath. USPS initially granted him an accommodation but then changed its mind and began scheduling Groff for Sunday work. Groff refused to violate his faith, and faced termination until he ultimately resigned in 2019. 

Why does the Groff v Dejoy case matter to Southern Baptists?

Southern Baptists have long subscribed to the belief that people of faith should not have to separate their vocation from their deeply held beliefs. More background information about the Groff v Dejoy case and the ERLC’s advocacy is available online.

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

To request an interview with Brent Leatherwood,
contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected] or call 202-547-0209 
Visit our website at
Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC.

By / Jun 9

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) exists to assist churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with churches and other Southern Baptist entities. As part of that role, we are committed to representing Southern Baptists on issues that hold immense importance for our churches and the gospel. 

One of the ways we fulfill this mission is by actively engaging in the judicial process, particularly at the United States Supreme Court. In this article, we want to update you on the current cases before the Supreme Court, why they matter for Southern Baptists, and how the ERLC is involved.

(For more in-depth analysis, please visit our website at

The Religious Postal Work Case | Groff v. Dejoy

One of the cases we are closely monitoring is Groff v. Dejoy, which revolves around Gerald Groff, a USPS carrier and devout Christian who was denied religious accommodations to observe the Sunday Sabbath. This case has the potential to challenge or limit the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, which restricted employers’ obligations to accommodate religious beliefs.

To support Groff and advocate for enhanced religious liberty protections in the workplace, the ERLC has come alongside other religious organizations in filing an amicus brief.

The 303 Creative Free Speech Case | 303 Creative v. Elenis

Another critical case we are following is 303 Creative v. Elenis. It involves Lorie Smith, a creative professional who refused to create a wedding website for a same-sex couple due to her religious convictions. This case raises significant questions about the boundaries of free speech and when the government can compel individuals to express themselves, even if it contradicts their beliefs.

We are actively urging the court to rule in favor of Smith, as it has implications for free speech and the ability of people of faith to live out their convictions in the public square.

The Abortion Pill Case | Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA (5th Circuit Decision)

Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA is a case brought by pro-life medical groups challenging the FDA’s approval of the chemical abortion drug, mifepristone, and the removal of safety precautions surrounding its usage.

The ERLC has been closely monitoring this case and has advocated for the protection of preborn lives and the well-being of women affected by this harmful drug. We will continue to urge the court to prioritize these critical concerns and will actively seek further engagement if the case is appealed to the Supreme Court.

Stay informed

The ERLC is deeply committed to equipping Southern Baptists with the necessary knowledge to understand court rulings and navigate these vital issues effectively. Recognizing the significance of staying informed and engaging thoughtfully in the public square, we have established a dedicated landing page,, to equip our churches and fellow Baptists. This platform serves as a comprehensive resource for all the cases we are monitoring, focusing on religious liberty, free speech, and the sanctity of life. Our goal is to empower Southern Baptists to comprehend and respond to these crucial matters.

In our role representing Southern Baptist churches and advocating for our deeply held convictions, the ERLC plays a vital role in addressing key legal cases before the Supreme Court. Through our engagement in cases like Groff v. Dejoy, 303 Creative v. Elenis, and Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, we seek to protect religious accommodations, defend free speech, and uphold the sanctity of life.

As Southern Baptists stand alongside us, we have the opportunity to bring light to a chaotic public square with the transformative message of Jesus Christ. Together, we can make a significant impact on crucial societal issues and ensure that our voices are heard and respected.

By / Jun 5

Many states are ending their legislative sessions at this time, making it an appropriate moment to look back at the previous cycles for issues of importance to Southern Baptists. At the ERLC, we were generally following trends in four major areas: 

  • Religious liberty, 
  • Sanctity of Human Life, 
  • Family/Marriage, 
  • and Human Dignity. 

In particular, the ERLC’s 2023 State Policy Review highlighted a number of potential pieces of legislation that were either causes of concern for Southern Baptists or were indicators of steps taken in agreement with biblical principles and evangelical convictions.

For many of the policies that the ERLC is watching, it should be noted that the process for state (and federal) legislation is often a long work. Thus, it is not uncommon for bills to be introduced and sit in a committee for several sessions before there is enough support among the legislators to bring it to the floor for debate and action. For state-level action, it is important to recognize the role that on-the-ground supporters and coalitions play in galvanizing support and encouraging legislators to take action rather than letting bills remain in subcommittees or be delayed by procedural measures. 

Religious liberty

During the 2023 legislative session, the ERLC was attentive to:

  • support for healthcare workers’ conscience protections, 
  • state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) efforts,
  • and protecting the religious liberty of foster care and adoption service providers. 

While not a comprehensive list of religious liberty concerns, they are emblematic of the issues which are of significant importance at this time. With the overturning of Roe, healthcare worker religious liberty exemptions are important so that workers are not forced to complete procedures that violate their deeply held convictions, namely abortions or gender transition surgery. 

Of the three bills that the ERLC highlighted as worth watching, two are still in committee in the state legislature:

The Michigan Religious Freedom Act has been given to the discharge committee as of March and will be scheduled for floor debate and vote. 

Sanctity of human life

The sanctity of human life is one area—possibly the area second only to religious liberty—where Southern Baptists have been the most consistent in their advocacy over the last four decades. With the Dobbs decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion, the importance of state-level restrictions, bans, and policy has been crucial to saving the lives of the preborn and protecting women from the predations of the abortion industry. 

A number of bills were referred to the various committees and subcommittees of their state legislatures but have unfortunately not progressed further such as: 

  • North Carolina House Bill 31, which outlawed abortion after a fetal heartbeat was detected except for medical emergencies, 
  • or Missouri Special Joint Resolution 8, which has been passed by the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee and awaits a full vote from the Senate and the House. The Missouri bill would ban the use of taxpayer funds for abortion providers and abortion services. 

Though North Carolina did not move forward with House Bill 31, it did pass, after overriding the governor’s veto, the Care for Women, Children, and Families Act which bans abortion after 12 weeks and invests in childcare, foster care, and parental leave. While we were pleased to see this bill become law in North Carolina, we would like to see these legislatures take additional action in future sessions to bring these more robust pro-life protections to the full session to save preborn lives and protect taxpayers from participating in the horror of abortion. 

However, there are other bills which have stalled in committee, and the ERLC is glad to see them not advance such as. This includes the New York Medical Aid in Dying Act which has been referred to the state’s Health Committee. This act would allow terminally-ill patients to request and use medication to end their lives, a position at odds with the oath of doctors to do no harm and medicine’s first principles of healing.  

Two other bills that the ERLC was watching have been signed by the governors of the respective states. The first, Maryland House Bill 705, harmfully amends the Maryland Constitution to enshrine “reproductive rights,” codifying a right to abortion in the state constitution. This is a step that the ERLC opposes and that Southern Baptists have opposed as an attack on the dignity and worth of our preborn neighbors. 

However, on a more encouraging note, the governor of Wyoming signed into law Senate Bill 109 which prohibited the manufacture, distribution, prescription, dispensing, sale, or transfer of any chemical abortion drugs for the purpose of an abortion. As the rate of chemical abortions rises, bills like these will become more important as individuals turn to pharmacists rather than abortion providers for the means to procure an abortion. 

The decision in Dobbs has created an inflection point for state policy related to abortion, requiring Southern Baptists to be vigilant for how they can help to advance a culture of life in their state. 

Family & marriage

As the fundamental building block of society, the family is of utmost importance. The ERLC has watched as states have advanced polices that help to further promote this foundational element of civilization. Key among these are the ways that states have moved to advance pro-life policies by easing the burden of families for childbearing and parenting. For example, Indiana House Bill 1009, signed into law in April by the governor of Indiana,

  • increases the responsibility of fathers in regards to helping mothers with pregnancy expenses; 
  • builds on previous language by adding “postpartum expenses” to the list of covered expenses; 
  • and helps single mothers in particular by ensuring that fathers bear the responsibility of the cost of childbirth. 

Additionally, the New Hampshire Senate has approved Senate Bill 172 which extends Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits to foster families and guardians who were previously excluded. It now goes to the New Hampshire House Finance Committee for vote and consideration.

Other bills that the ERLC has been watching have been referred to various committees for consideration but have not moved forward. Chief among these are:

  • the Tennessee Youth Health Protection Act—which would ensure that it was unlawful for a minor to undergo medical procedures which change the child’s presentation or appearance in a way contradictory to their biological sex—has been assigned to the Tennessee House Subcommittee on Health; 
  • and the Georgia Parents and Children’s Protection Act of 2023—which would increase the right of parents in schools and require parental consent to discuss topics relating to gender and sexuality with students, and for a student to be recognized as a different gender—has been referred by the Georgia Senate. 

While we would have liked to see both of these bills move forward to protect children from the dangerous ideology of transgenderism, we were pleased to see Tennessee, alongside several other states, pass House and Senate Bill 1 which bans many harmful medical “gender-affirming care” procedures.  

Human dignity

The final major area that the ERLC is watching at the state level is that of human dignity. The ERLC advocates for laws that lead to human flourishing (Micah 6:8; Jam. 2:1-13) because we adhere to the truth that each person is made in the image of God, possessing inherent dignity and worth without impartiality. This includes advocacy for sexual abuse prevention measures such as:

Both bills are proactive steps toward combatting sexual abuse and warrant future action. 

Additionally, in keeping with the particular resolutions on criminal justice reform passed by the messengers at the SBC, the ERLC continues to watch the legislation in Oklahoma which assists prisoners in their reentry to society following their incarceration. Oklahoma Senate Bill 11, which would remove financial aid barriers for incarcerated students, is a helpful measure aimed at reducing recidivism. The bill has been passed by the House and introduced in the Senate.  

The ERLC also was encouraged to see legislators in Georgia and voters in Oklahoma reject proposals that would have negatively affected individuals. The Georgia Sports Betting Integrity Act would have legalized access to online sports betting in the state, an action likely to negatively impact the poor and young who are the most likely participants in sports betting. The proposal failed to advance after a vote in the state senate. The voters of Oklahoma also rejected a ballot initiative to allow recreational marijuana usage for anyone over the age of 21.  

By / May 4

On May 1, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2023 annual report. As the report mentions, USCIRF was created as a result of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). USCIRF “is an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisory body, separate from the U.S. Department of State, that monitors religious freedom abroad and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress.”

The recommendations in USCIRF’s report are based “on its statutory mandate and the standards in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents.” The 98-page report assesses religious freedom violations and progress during calendar year 2022 in 28 countries and makes independent recommendations for U.S. policy for both the Biden administration and for Congress.

The report’s primary focus is on two groups of countries: 

  • Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs): The first group includes those countries that USCIRF recommends the State Department should designate as CPCs. IRFA defines CPCs as countries where the government engages in or tolerates “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom, such as torture or prolonged detention without trial. 
  • Special Watch List (SWL): The second group are countries that USCIRF recommends the State Department should place on its SWL. The SWL is for countries where the government engages in or tolerates “severe” violations of religious freedom that are ongoing and egregious. 

In addition to these groups, the report also includes USCIRF’s recommendations of violent nonstate actors for designation by the State Department as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs).

Country recommendations

CPCs: In this year’s report, USCIRF recommends 17 countries to the State Department for designation as CPCs. Ten countries were previously designated as CPCs: Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Five other countries are also recommended to be added: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam.

SWL: The report also recommends 11 countries be included on the SWL. Two countries—Algeria and the Central African Republic (CAR)—had previously been included on the list. The nine other countries recommended for inclusion are Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

EPCs: Finally, seven nonstate actors are recommended to be designated as EPCs: al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Houthis, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP, also referred to as ISIS-West Africa), and Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM).

The report also highlights key USCIRF recommendations that the U.S. government has implemented from USCIRF’s 2022 Annual Report—including adding CAR to the State Department’s SWL, imposing targeted sanctions on religious freedom violators, and recognizing the Burmese military’s atrocities against Rohingya Muslims as genocide and crimes against humanity.

The ERLC and international religious freedom 

The ERLC is deeply committed to advocating for religious freedom around the world. In 2019, we released a short film titled “Humanity Denied: Religious Freedom in North Korea.” The film features defectors from North Korea as well as church leaders and human rights activists in South Korea. 

China is country that has increased its persecution of Christians, Uyghur Muslims, and other ethnic and religious minorities. This is extremely concerning, and the ERLC has been calling on the U.S. government to hold China accountable for their religious freedom abuses and to counter China morally. Further, the Southern Baptist Convention was the first denomination to call what’s happening in China a genocide.

In addition to country-specific advocacy, the ERLC has worked on initiatives to fight against blasphemy laws and the rise of anti-Semitism. We are dedicated to advocating for the vulnerable and oppressed around the world and to championing the rights of our persecuted brothers and sisters.

How you can pray

ERLC is grateful for the work of the USCIRF and encourages all Christians to support the work of this advisory body. We can also use this report, as we do resources from the Joshua Project and Operation World, as a prayer guide for the nations and for persecuted Christians around the globe. Here are four ways, recommended by Casey B. Hough, that Christians can use USCIRF’s annual report in daily prayer for the nations:

  1. We can pray for the endurance and faithfulness of Christians who live in the countries listed in the report.
  1. We can pray for those who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ because of the difficulties that missionaries encounter with the government.
  1. We can pray with gratefulness to God for the religious freedom that he has granted us at this time in history.
  1. Finally, we can pray for God to use the efforts of USCIRF and other international organizations to quell the religious freedom violations that exist around the world so that the gospel might advance without hindrance (Col. 4:3).
By / Apr 28

On this episode, Lindsay Nicolets talks with Palmer Williams about her work at the ERLC, the realities of politics, and future Supreme Court rulings. They also discuss Palmer’s hopes for the SBC. 

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