By / Feb 1

WASHINGTON (BP) — Religious freedom impacts economic prosperity and political rights, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson said Jan. 31 in his keynote address at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington.

“Economic prosperity grows when people are allowed to follow their faith, and freedom flourishes where freedom is allowed,” Johnson said. “When religious freedom is taken away from the people, political freedom soon follows.”

Johnson spoke in the final plenary of the two-day summit that, in its fourth year, convened a diverse segment of religious freedom advocates and leaders from the U.S. and abroad. Through a series of plenaries, panel discussions, breakout sessions and personal testimonies, advocates encouraged and equipped attendees to advocate for a global right to individual religious freedom for all, regardless of religion and gender.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) was among the event’s convening partners.

As Southern Baptists, we have a rich history of advocating for a government that safeguards the ability for us to live according to our deeply held beliefs found in Scripture.

By taking part in the fourth annual summit, we also deepen vital partnerships to protect the religious liberty of all people around the world. As we recognize infringements upon religious liberty ultimately inhibit the work of our missionaries and churches in fulfilling the Great Commission.

ERLC Policy Associate Allison Cantrell

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Jan 26

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

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

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

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

Life

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

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

Religious Liberty

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

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

Marriage & Family

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

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

Human Dignity

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

  • Support a Permanent Solution for Dreamers: With litigation on its way to the Supreme Court that will likely end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, these young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents remain in an unstable situation without action from Congress.
  • Rebuild the Refugee Resettlement Program: Though progress has been made in rebuilding infrastructure, we will continue to advocate for fully restoring the refugee resettlement program and America’s legacy as a beacon of hope to those fleeing persecution.
  • Support the Afghan Adjustment Act:  This bill provides a path to permanent legal status after additional vetting for Afghans who were brought to the U.S. following the fall of Afghanistan and who remain in limbo.
  • Support Border Security Enhancements and Asylum Reforms: At the 2023 annual meeting, Southern Baptists called on lawmakers to “provide clear guidance for immigrants and asylum seekers,” “maintain robust avenues for valid asylum claimants seeking refuge,” and “prioritize measures that secure our borders and to provide adequate resources to border patrol and those working in our immigration system.” 
  • Support Further Criminal Justice Reform: The ERLC will continue to advocate for reforms that focus on fairness, safety, rehabilitation, and recognize the dignity of those in prison, including provisions requiring that only biological females may be housed together.
  • Combat the Epidemic of Mass Shootings and Gun Violence: In 2018, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention gave support for “preventative measures that would reduce gun violence and mass shootings while operating in accordance with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.” In 2022, messengers urged lawmakers “to take concrete steps, towards solutions that uphold the dignity and value of every human life, especially the most vulnerable among us, and to minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society.”
  • Support Payday Lending Regulations: Short-term payday loans often come with deceptive and predatory annual interest rates of over 400%, trapping the poor in a vicious cycle of debt and despair. 
  • Oppose Efforts to Expand Gambling: Even as millions are trapped in the addictive and destructive cycle of gambling, efforts are underway at both the state and federal levels to expand gambling, particularly through sports betting. 
  • Advocate for Anti-Human Trafficking Laws: The ERLC will continue to advocate for anti-human trafficking legislation in Congress—particularly legislation aimed at supporting trafficking victims and increasing the responsibility of companies to remove this explicit content from their platforms. 
  • Support Efforts to Shape Artificial Intelligence and Technology that Emphasize Human Dignity: In 2023, Southern Baptists called on lawmakers to “proactively engage and shape these emerging technologies rather than simply respond to the challenges of AI and other emerging technologies after they have already affected our churches and communities.” The ERLC will continue to assist lawmakers in understanding these realities and advocate for policies in line with this call of human dignity and the common good.
By / Jan 23

The recently proposed Safeguarding Charity Act is a response to numerous religious liberty challenges that take place within our courts. Encouragingly, this fundamental American freedom has stood its ground. Today, the religious freedom protections we enjoy as Americans remain robust.

However, the challenges to our first freedom haven’t abated entirely. In the last couple of years, rulings in two court cases have taken aim at religious liberty by equating “tax-exempt status” with “federal financial assistance.” In response, Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressman Greg Steube are proposing a bill called the Safeguarding Charity Act. 

What is the Safeguarding Charity Act?

The Safeguarding Charity Act is an amendment—a “congressional remedy“—to Title 1 of the United States Code being proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressman Greg Steube of Florida. Its purpose is “to reverse [two recent court decisions]” that “potentially subject tens of thousand of unsuspecting non-profits to multiple burdensome and costly federal laws for the first time, restore the decades-long understanding of the law, and forestall a virtually unprecedented expansion of federal law.”

The act is being proposed in response to Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School and E.H. v. Valley Christian Academy, two recent court cases with significant religious liberty implications. 

What problem does it seek to address?

Over a period of 75 years—from 1894 to 1969—the basic principles and requirements of tax exemption in the U.S., including the kinds of organizations that could be granted exemption, were developed through a series of legislative actions. In the last couple of years, however, two court decisions have muddied the waters on what it means to be tax exempt and what it means to receive federal financial assistance.

In Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School and E.H. v. Valley Christian Academy, the courts have held that to enjoy tax-exempt status is to receive “federal financial assistance,” a novel conclusion that virtually no court in American history, nor federal agency, nor statute has held. And while it may seem like an insignificant distinction, if these courts rulings were to be upheld, or if Rubio’s proposed amendment does not pass, the rulings would immediately trigger the application of a number of statutes not intended for tax-exempt entities, imposing on them burdens they ought not to bear. 

Defining tax exemption as a form of federal financial assistance would trigger such laws as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and others, applying them to a number of organizations that have historically been exempt from federal income taxation such as private schools, houses of worship, volunteer fire departments, veterans organizations, and many more. If the court decisions are upheld and more widely embraced, untold numbers of tax-exempt organizations will become subject to government imposed statutes and regulations. If they are found to be in violation of the statutes and regulations, they could incur financial penalties or their tax-exempt status could be removed.

The Safeguarding Charity Act “would correct the courts’ erroneous decisions by declaring that tax-exempt status is not ‘federal financial assistance.'”

Why should Southern Baptists support the Safeguarding Charity Act?

The court decisions mentioned above have significant religious liberty implications. If being tax-exempt is equated with receiving federal financial assistance, thereby triggering statutes and regulations on historically tax-exempt organizations, thousands of nonprofits, including many faith-based organizations, will be forced to comply with regulations that may interfere with their religious liberty and consciences.

Many faith-based organizations that would otherwise qualify for federal grants and financial assistance explicitly do not take such funds to avoid these stringent requirements that could violate their beliefs. Religious organizations provide indispensable benefits to the communities that they serve and threatening to take away the tax-exempt status of these institutions or subject them to regulations that infringe on their deeply held convictions, will only harm the individuals being served by these organizations.

As Christians, we believe that God has given the governing authorities power and responsibility (Rom. 13:1–2). We ought not to resist the state when it acts within the bounds of the authority it’s received from God. But the state’s power is not ultimate—there are certain boundaries it shall not cross. When it attempts to encroach on its citizens’ religious convictions or impose its values by edict or fiat—precisely the effect the aforementioned statutes and regulations will have on formerly tax-exempt organizations—the state has certainly overstepped the bounds of its authority.

Christians should support the Safeguarding Charity Act because doing so represents a tangible step toward safeguarding the religious liberties that are so fundamental to American life. 

What comes next?

Now that Sen. Rubio and Congressman Steube have introduced the bill, they will begin the hard work of convincing their colleagues from both parties to support this solution. It is unlikely that a measure like this will quickly be passed into law, but the ERLC will work with these members and other partners to continue educating our lawmakers about this issue and advocating for their support of this proposal.

By / Jan 19

Following Jesus has always been a call to risk everything. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus pulls no punches about what it looks like to be his disciple: “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24); “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39); “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). While these reminders from Jesus are always true, in some parts of the world they are experienced more imminently than others.

Every January, Open Doors releases its annual World Watch List—a project that ranks the top 50 countries worldwide where it’s most dangerous to identify as a follower of Jesus. In recent days, the organization published the 2024 World Watch List, revealing updated information and trends from the last 12 months. You can find and read the full report here.

Trends and statistics

According to the report’s findings, on average “thirteen Christians a day were killed for their faith in 2023.” This number was part of a larger trend that saw:

  • nearly 5,000 Christians murdered last year, 
  • more than 4,000 detained, 
  • almost 300,000 displaced, 
  • and an estimated 365 million persecuted for their Christian faith. 

That means one in seven Christians around the world currently experience high, and sometimes dangerously violent levels of persecution on a daily basis.

Moreover, according to the report, “The number of attacks on churches and Christian-run schools, hospitals, and cemeteries exploded in 2023.” Almost 15,000 churches and Christian properties were attacked in 2023, which is a “seven-fold [increase] compared to the previous year.” In China alone, some 10,000 churches were shuttered, while in Algeria the number of Protestant churches went from 47 to four. Countries like India, Nigeria, Nicaragua, and Ethiopia closed and/or attacked churches at an alarming rate as well.

Overall, more Christians faced violent attacks in 2023 than ever recorded. The number of displaced Christians around the world more than doubled. One in five Christians in Africa were persecuted for their faith, while that number was two in five for Christians in Asia. Worldwide, Christians faced more hostility in 2023 than they have in recent years. 

Country rankings for Christian persecution

Sitting atop this year’s World Watch List are the same 10 countries as the 2023 list, though the order has shuffled slightly. The countries in order are:

  1. North Korea
  2. Somalia
  3. Libya
  4. Eritrea
  5. Yemen
  6. Nigeria
  7. Pakistan
  8. Sudan
  9. Iran
  10. Afghanistan 

Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa are the regions with the greatest concentration of persecution around the globe. 

Asia: In North Korea, “being discovered to be a Christian … is effectively a death sentence.” Being found out means you’re either deported and sentenced to a life of hard labor or killed along with your family. Religious freedom and the freedom to worship are nonexistent, so meeting for worship or even possessing a Bible or other Christian literature is done at great risk and in utmost secrecy. North Korea is just one example among many Asian countries where persecution is rampant including India (11), China (19), Myanmar (17), Vietnam (35), Malaysia (49), and Indonesia (42). 

Middle East: The Middle East has always been a hotly contested piece of real estate, which remains true today. Saudi Arabia (13), Syria (12), Yemen (5), Iraq (16), and Iran (9), among others, are countries where following Jesus is an extreme risk. In Yemen, for example, a majority-Muslim country where denouncing Islam can mean death or banishment, there are very few Christians. But for those who are Christians, they must keep their faith secret or face “divorce, loss of custody of children, arrest, interrogation, or death.” 

North Africa: On the African continent, Morocco (24), Algeria (15), Tunisia (33), Libya (3), Egypt (38), Sudan (8), and others all made the list. In Nigeria (6)—a country of almost 103 million Christians—it is shockingly dangerous to be a Christian. In fact, “More people are killed for their faith in Nigeria each year, than everywhere else in the world combined.” Nine out of ten religiously-motivated murders worldwide occur in Nigeria. Nineteen of the 50 countries included on the 2024 World Watch List are located in Africa.

While the 10 most dangerous countries have largely stayed the same, it is worth noting that other countries’ rankings have risen significantly in the last year or more (meaning they are becoming more dangerous). For instance, as recently as 2022, Nicaragua was not included on the World Watch List. However, Nicaragua was on last year’s list at number 50 and this year’s at number 30 due to its rapidly deteriorating political situation. Likewise, over the last few years Cuba has risen from being unlisted in 2021 to number 37 in 2022 to 27 in 2023 to number 22 on this year’s list. Like Nicaragua, Cuba’s persecution is mostly delivered by the Cuban government. 

Positive trends

Thankfully, there’s some good news to share as well. First, fewer Christians were killed for their faith in 2023 (4,998) than in 2022 (5,621), which was also lower than the previous year (5,898). Five thousand people is far, far too many, but the downward trend is welcome news in a report filled with dire findings.

As the report points out, political developments in countries like Mali (14) and India (11) show signs of progress and hope. In 2023, Mali adopted a new constitution which recognizes non-Muslim minorities and “paved the way for elections in a nation currently ruled by a military government.” Similarly, India rolled back anti-conversion laws that have long been a tool of persecution, giving hope to Christians who have experienced harassment and intimidation due to the now defunct laws. 

In Laos, a country that has exploded in religious persecution and jumped 10 spots on the World Watch List, the Church there is flourishing and growing. According to one country expert, “I have never seen a clearer connection between growing opposition and a growing church.” 

How can we stand with our brothers and sisters around the world facing Christian persecution?

After reading a report like this, we may experience a number of emotions: helplessness, fear, compassion, horror, and others. And since we’re mostly far removed from the people represented on this list, it’s easy to put the report down and simply move on. As Christians, though, regardless of how many miles lie between us, these are our brothers and sisters. So what should we do?

At the very least, we should labor in prayer for our brothers and sisters in the faith. After all, we believe that God works powerfully and providentially through our prayers. Many of us can give financially to people and organizations that serve the persecuted church in difficult locations. Some of us may even be compelled to go to these places ourselves. But all of us can pray—and there’s no better and more powerful way to strengthen these Christians and help them persevere than to approach God on their behalf in prayer. 

So, use this year’s World Watch List as a prayer prompt. Let it motivate you to pray and inform the way you pray for those around the world who “suffer from high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith”—the same faith we get to exercise without threat or fear. As we pray, the ERLC will continue to advocate for the recognition of religious liberty in all countries around the world 

By / Jan 19

Within the scope of modern history, the year 1964 remains a seminal moment, due largely to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, which fundamentally transformed the societal landscape of the United States. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of civil rights legislation, sought to dismantle the entrenched structures of racial segregation and discrimination. The legislation also outlawed discrimination on other grounds other than race such as color, religion, sex, or national origin. But the language of the 1964 act, initially crafted to combat racial injustice, has been increasingly co-opted in the discourse surrounding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policies.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 marked the culmination of a prolonged struggle for racial equality, led by figures like Martin Luther King Jr., whose receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize that same year symbolized global recognition of the moral legitimacy of the Civil Rights Movement. Over the next several decades after its passage, the law brought profound changes in American workplaces, schools, and public facilities, and served as a declaration of the intrinsic value and dignity of every individual.

Co-option of civil rights language by advocates of SOGI laws

SOGI is an initialism commonly used to refer to laws which would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the law. For example, the SOGI legislation known as the Equality Act intends to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code.

Such repurposing of civil rights terminology represents a significant deviation from the original purpose of the Civil Rights Act. Indeed, the ERLC believes this expansion of SOGI as a protected class represents the most significant threat to religious liberty ever considered in the United States Congress. Opposing the Equality Act has thus been among our topic public policy priorities since 2021.

SOGI laws discriminate against other groups

Including SOGI as protected classes would discriminate against everyone who holds the belief in distinct, complementary genders and that sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral. Applying civil rights language to SOGI advocacy would thus lead to infringement on religious beliefs as individuals and organizations would be forced to act contrary to their religious convictions.

We believe the extension of Civil Rights Act language to encompass SOGI issues is a misappropriation, as it shifts the focus from addressing a legitimate historical grievance—race-based discrimination—to advocating for matters of individual preference, such as sexual orientation and gender identity. Biologically, SOGI issues differ from immutable realities such as race or sex. Theologically, SOGI issues are different from the morally neutral category of national origin because they are condemned by both general and special revelation.

Amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law would curtail religious freedom protections, hinder the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately steamroll the consciences of millions of Americans.

SOGI legislation would ignore the rights of women by effectively erasing the biological distinctions of male and female. Furthermore, girls’ and women’s sports would be forced to include biological men, setting an unfair and impossible standard. In all cases, women would be put in danger, potentially forced to share bathrooms, locker rooms, and other private spaces. 

Additionally, people of faith would have their religious freedom violated by being forced to affirm SOGI categories, directly violating their deeply held beliefs, or face consequences; whether it’s through their vocation as a healthcare worker who is forced to perform a gender-transition surgery, the leader of a Christian nonprofit organization that has to shut down because of refusing to adhere to SOGI categories, or the Christian couple denied a child in foster care because they will not affirm harmful gender ideologies.

Balancing rights and freedoms

A critical issue facing all levels of government—from local to federal— is finding a way to strike a balance between the rights of individuals identifying with various sexual orientations and gender identities and the religious freedoms of those holding traditional biblical views. The expansion of anti-discrimination laws to include SOGI is portrayed, in theory, as a reasonable and just accommodation. But in reality, SOGI laws have been used to overrule and marginalize the most fundamental rights of religious liberty. 

For instance, the legislation would explicitly curtail the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. As mentioned, a consequence of this action would be forcing faith-based child welfare organizations to either abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down. States such as Colorado have already used SOGI laws in this way—and at a time when multiple societal crises increase the need for children services. Additionally, doctors and nurses who object to gender reassignment surgeries for moral, religious, or scientific reasons would be forced to provide the procedure or risk losing their jobs.

“The truth is, the Equality Act is not just a bad bill; it’s a dangerous one,” said Josh Wester. “ It does not represent a good faith effort to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination. It is, in fact, an effort to codify into law the progressive orthodoxy of the sexual revolution and to legally silence those who dissent.”

Upholding the original spirit of the Civil Rights Act

As we mark the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we should honor its foundational aim by protecting it from misappropriation. Allowing the act’s language to be changed to include SOGI would be a betrayal of the original spirit of the legislation as it would curtail discrimination against sex and religion and undermine both antidiscrimination protections for women and religious freedoms for all Americans.

SOGI laws erode foundational constitutional freedoms in its pursuit of fleeting cultural ideas. We must protect and preserve the core values of the Civil Rights Act in order to safeguard religious freedoms for all Americans. That is why the ERLC will continue to oppose the Equality Act and similar SOGI legislation introduced in Congress. We will continue to advocate for a public square solution that protects and upholds the dignity of all people regardless of how they identify and the rights of all, while ensuring that religiously motivated individuals and institutions are free to live and act according to their deeply held convictions.

By / Jan 17

Just a day after remembering the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., Americans are being called to reflect Tuesday (Jan. 16) on the importance of religious liberty.

“The constitutional right to practice our faiths peacefully and openly is a core tenet of our democracy and helps us fulfill one of our highest aspirations as a Nation: to be a citadel of liberty and a beacon of freedom,” said President Joe Biden in a Jan. 12 release proclaiming Jan. 16 as Religious Freedom Day.

Presidents have been setting aside the day since it was designated by Congress in 1993.

The day is set aside to commemorate “the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of the landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786,” according to George Washington University. The statute was written by Thomas Jefferson.

“We believe freedom of religion includes the ability to worship without the interference of the state, the ability to freely express one’s religious beliefs without fear of retribution from the state, and the freedom to live according to one’s deepest held convictions,” said Miles Mullin, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) chief of staff, in written comments.

Southern Baptist religious liberty leaders say religious freedom has deep roots in their theological convictions.

“For centuries, Baptists have advocated for religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all people. For Southern Baptists, this has been a foundational commitment, so important that we enshrined it in our confession of faith ,” Mullin said.

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Jan 5

As we enter 2024, the complex political landscape in the United States, marked by division and a struggling Congress, presents unique challenges and opportunities for Christian engagement in public policy. It is in the midst of this dysfunction and division that we must find a way to press forward on the issues relevant to the mission of the ERLC: protecting life, safeguarding religious liberty, bolstering marriage and families, and upholding human dignity. Here are some of the top policy issues to watch in 2024.

Life: Beyond Dobbs

The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision has reshaped the pro-life landscape. However, challenges like the rise of chemical abortions and “abortion tourism” persist. The sanctity of life is foundational (Gen. 1:27), and our advocacy must extend to all life stages, echoing our commitment to life and human dignity. 

Here are some federal pro-life legislative issues to be aware of:

  • Pro-life riders in congressional appropriations: A key legislative priority is maintaining and including historic pro-life amendments, known as riders, in Congressional appropriations bills. For example, the Hyde Amendment, a significant pro-life rider for over 40 years, prevents government-funded abortions and protects citizens’ consciences from funding actions they consider unjust. An effort will be made this year to extend Hyde Amendment-like protections to prevent taxpayer funding for abortion-related travel and services.
  • Proliferation of chemical abortions: The use of chemical abortions, which accounted for 53% of all abortions in 2021, has been on the rise, and the number likely increased following the Dobbs decision. The FDA has even increased access to these drugs, including mail delivery and availability at retail pharmacies, raising concerns about the risks to women and preborn children. Legislation like the SAVE Moms and Babies Act would help to regulate this industry.
  • The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA decision: The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case challenging the deregulation of the abortion drug mifepristone. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled to reinstate significant restrictions on the drug including in-person medical visits, halting mail-order distribution, and limiting its use to the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. By upholding this decision, the Supreme Court would be helping to protect preborn lives and women’s health.
  • The Women’s Health Protection Act: This act would remove all abortion restrictions and limits. The result would be to allow abortions up to birth, remove pro-life protections, and force taxpayer funding for abortions. 
  • Pro-life legislation: Several new pieces of pro-life legislation may be considered this year: The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which aims to codify the Hyde Amendment; and the Support for the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which requires healthcare practitioners to provide the same level of care to children born alive after a failed abortion as they would to any child born at the same gestational age. The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Heartbeat Protection Act would also impose further federal restrictions on abortion. 

Religious Liberty: A Baptist distinctive

The Baptist tradition, with its strong emphasis on religious liberty and separation of church and state, informs our approach to issues like The Equality Act and attacks on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This principle, grounded in Scripture’s teaching on the conscience (Rom. 14:23), is not just for Christians but for all, reflecting God’s Lordship over the conscience and our call to live in a society that respects diverse convictions.

Some legislative and regulatory issues of particular concern to this issue in 2024 include:

  • The Equality Act: The Equality Act, which passed the House in February 2021 and amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, is likely to curtail religious freedom, impacting healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, and undermining rights for women and girls.
  • The Do No Harm Act: This act is a threat to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), as it could weaken religious freedom protections. 
  • The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act: This act aims to prevent government discrimination against child welfare agencies based on their religious beliefs, ensuring a broader range of child welfare providers are available.
  • The Conscience Protection Act: This act offers protections for healthcare workers with religious or moral objections to participating in or providing insurance coverage for certain medical procedures, including contraception.
  • Regulatory actions under the Biden administration: As with the past few years, the regulatory changes proposed by the Biden administration could threaten religious liberty and conscience rights, including those affecting foster care, healthcare, and college campuses.
  • The Universal Charitable Deduction: This policy encourages charitable giving by allowing all taxpayers to claim deductions for donations, regardless of whether they itemize their deductions.

Marriage and Family: Upholding biblical standards

In a post-Roe world, the focus on marriage and family policies becomes even more critical. Advocacy for adoption, opposition to “gender transition” surgeries, and supporting pro-family policies are not merely social stances but are deeply theological, reflecting God’s design for the family (Eph. 5:31-32) and the value of children (Psa. 127:3).

Some aspects of particular interest in 2024 include the following:

  • Adoption and Foster Care policies: Congress might consider various proposals, including the Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act, which would ease the financial burden of adoption.
  • The Adoptee Citizenship Act: This act aims to grant immediate citizenship to foreign-born children adopted by U.S. citizens who were excluded from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.
  • Marijuana expansion and related banking legislation: Proposed efforts to legalize marijuana federally, including the SAFER Banking Act, would contribute to the drug epidemic. The Biden administration’s is also attempting to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, which is a further leap toward federal legalization.
  • Gender “transitions” and parental rights: In recent years, we have seen alarming increases in the number of individuals, many of whom are minors, undergo physically damaging “gender transition” surgeries and procedures. This issue is also being pushed forward in all contexts, often without the knowledge of consent of parents. Many pieces of new legislation are seeking to outlaw these harmful practices and empower parents.

Human Dignity: Addressing global and societal issues

Our focus on issues such as the persecution of Uyghurs in China, anti-Semitism, and human trafficking aligns with the biblical mandate to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). These issues challenge us to recognize the imago Dei in all people, leading to advocacy that transcends national and ethnic boundaries. Here are a few examples:

  • The Afghan Adjustment Act: This legislation would provide a path to permanent legal status for Afghan evacuees brought to the U.S. under humanitarian parole following the fall of Afghanistan in 2021.
  • Gambling expansion: 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. Lawmakers at the state and federal level will be thinking about how to push back on this trend. 

The road ahead 

These issues are just a sampling of areas that require our attention in the days ahead. Throughout 2024, the ERLC is committed to leading the way for Christian engagement in a world marked by division and ethical complexity. Because, as guided by Scripture, we value the sanctity of life, religious liberty, marriage and the family, and human dignity, we are called not only to advocate for policies but also to embody the transformative power of the gospel in public life. As we engage these issues, our ultimate hope rests not in legislative victories but in the sovereign grace of God, who calls us to be salt and light in a world in need of the hope found in Christ alone.

By / Dec 20

Since its creation 12 years ago, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Unaccompanied Child (UAC) program has helped 410,000 children who have arrived at our borders without a parent or legal guardian by providing basic services and placing such children with foster families. Federal law provides that the ORR through the UAC program is responsible for “coordinating and implementing the care and placement,” “identifying a sufficient number of qualified individuals, entities, and facilities to house,” and “overseeing the infrastructure and personnel of facilities” as needed to ensure these children are placed in safe environments, free of exploitation. In November, the ORR released proposed rulemaking that both provided helpful updates and added concerning measures regarding abortion and “gender transitions” to ORR’s guidelines.

The ERLC responded to this proposal by submitting comments in response to the proposed rule, requesting that the ORR review and revise the rule and remove concerning elements that violated religious liberty protections, conscience rights, and endanger the preborn.

Southern Baptists have stated our desire to see meaningful government policy enacted that ensures clear borders and clear legal pathways while protecting the lives of children made in God’s image and worthy of protection and care. In the resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration” earlier this year, Southern Baptists committed to “urge our government to take swift and bold action to protect and prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving to the United States.” 

Beneficial proposals

The ORR states that under this proposed rule,

“ORR would be required to plan and provide care and services based on the individual needs of and focusing on the strengths of the unaccompanied child … these collaborative approaches to care provision allow for the recognition of each child’s specific needs and strengths while providing opportunities for unaccompanied children to become more empowered, resilient, and self-efficacious.”

This shows a shift toward a more individualized placement approach within the ORR, leading to better care and protection for these children who may have undergone trauma, abuse, or various other forms of neglect prior to arrival.

As we stated in our comments,

this proposed rule does much good in establishing stronger standards to ensure that these vulnerable children are not exploited and receive proper care. This proposed rule helpfully codifies many standards and practices established in the Flores settlement, individualizes assessment in placements to prioritize the best interest of the child, improves standards for placements that will assist in preventing trafficking, and increases legal representation for these unaccompanied children.

Three primary concerns

The ERLC flagged three primary types of concerns related to abortion, religious liberty, and “gender transition” issues.

Firstly, the ORR explicitly states that the office would continue to fund abortion-related travel for minors in the UAC program. While the ORR claims this is permissible under current appropriations law, the ERLC and pro-life advocacy partners have argued that it is not permissible, with the ERLC stating in the submitted comments:

As the ERLC has repeatedly advocated, abortion-related travel is inherently included as a prohibited measure under the Hyde Amendment since doing so subsidizes the abortion industry with federal funding. There is no meaningful argument the ORR can make to separate abortion from abortion-related travel, and this type of argument has not proven successful in circumventing other federal appropriations restrictions.

Additionally, the ORR does not make any attempt to retain conscience and other religious liberty protections for ORR staffers and foster care parents whose deeply held beliefs may be infringed upon as a result of these newly established guidelines. For example, ORR staffers and foster parents will likely be required to aid in ensuring unaccompanied minor children have access to abortion under the proposed rule. Although the rule states that the program is operated in compliance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), it is not specified how the agency actually intends to navigate conflict between this proposed rule and the religious liberty protections provided in RFRA.

Lastly, the ORR includes a provision whereby an unaccompanied child is able to request medical services “requiring heightened ORR involvement” and potentially requiring transport across state lines. While the rule does not specifically state “gender transition” procedures and prescriptions are included within this definition, it also does not specify which types of medical services would require such heightened ORR involvement. In keeping with a larger agenda of the Biden administration, it is clear that such language is intended to circumvent laws prohibiting such “gender transitions” in some states.

How does this issue affect Southern Baptists?

Thousands of Southern Baptists have fostered children, launched foster care organizations, and created ministries in their congregations to support the physical and financial needs of foster families. Additionally, congregations across the country have hosted training for foster families to ensure they are trauma informed and have all the knowledge and resources they need to be “safe and appropriate” placements for children in crisis.

Since these unaccompanied children will be placed into foster care, it’s likely this issue will directly affect the religious liberty of Southern Baptists faithfully living out our deeply held religious convictions.

As Southern Baptists, we believe that caring for the vulnerable, including unaccompanied children, is deeply connected to our faith, and we desire to see these children provided with proper care. The necessary and helpful work the ORR does should remain so without capitulating to an agenda that harms the very children we desire to see protected. We encourage fellow Southern Baptists to join us in praying that this rule is revised, for opportunities to equip and care for the foster families serving these children, and for God to continue to grant his wisdom to the staff members of the ORR in ensuring safe and protected environments for these children.

By / Dec 15

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission exists to assist Southern Baptist 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.

Under the leadership of Brent Leatherwood, elected as president in 2022, the ERLC has consistently shown a steadfast commitment to its foundational principles while adeptly navigating the evolving challenges of our time. From our offices in Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., our work is rooted in the truths of Scripture and can be categorized in four main areas: life, religious liberty, marriage and family, and human dignity.

Here are some of the highlights from our work in these areas featured in our 2023 Annual Report.

Life

In the wake of the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, the ERLC reinforced its dedication to pro-life advocacy. This pivotal ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade, brought new challenges and opportunities for the Commission. The ERLC remains resolute in its mission to foster a culture where life is cherished at every stage, advocating for the dignity of all, from conception to natural death.

During the ongoing Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations session, ERLC has prioritized safeguarding life and religious liberty. In recent years, we were concerned with the removal of pro-life and conscience protection riders, including the Hyde Amendment, from the initially proposed 2022 and 2023 appropriations bills. At the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention, a resolution was passed condemning efforts to remove these pro-life riders. The ERLC thoroughly reviewed the appropriations bills and continues to advocate for these riders and against pro-abortion funding.

Post-Dobbs, the Biden administration pushed policies promoting abortion access such as expanding access to abortion pills, funding abortion travel, and using taxpayer funds for abortion access education. This included changes by the VA and the Department of Defense to facilitate abortions, and the adaptation of HIPAA by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which could hinder investigations into illegal abortion and gender-transition procedures, raising concerns about the protection of those who have been abused.

The Food and Drug Administration also made chemical abortion drugs more accessible, despite a high complication rate. And we continue to monitor a court case challenging the FDA’s approval of the abortion drug mifepristone.

At the state level, the ERLC collaborated with North Carolina Baptists to impose a 12-week abortion limit in North Carolina and with Nevada Baptists to prevent Nevada from becoming a destination for assisted suicide. We are committed to working with state conventions to protect life from conception to natural death.

Religious Liberty

The ERLC’s defense of religious liberty has been unwavering. In 2023 we championed this cause through significant legislative and Supreme Court victories. By upholding the Baptist principle of a “free church in a free state,” the ERLC has ensured that the proclamation of the gospel continues unimpeded by governmental constraints.

We’ve recently focused on responding to two significant Supreme Court decisions impacting religious liberty: Groff v. Dejoy and 303 Creative v. Elenis.

In the Groff case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the standard for religious accommodations in the workplace, set by a 1977 decision, had been misinterpreted. This unanimous ruling clarifies that employers face a higher burden before denying religious accommodations. As Southern Baptists, we firmly believe in the inseparability of our faith from our work. Reflecting this belief, we filed an amicus brief to support the expansion of religious accommodations.

The 303 Creative case was another crucial victory. The court sided with Lorie Smith, a web designer who chose not to create websites for same-sex marriages, against a Colorado law that had targeted others for their beliefs, like cake artist Jack Phillips. This ruling not only upheld free speech but also acknowledged the constitutional protection of creative expression. It’s a significant win for individuals wanting to express their faith publicly.

At the federal level, we’ve been actively countering efforts by Congress and the administration that threaten religious liberty. We’ve opposed the Respect for Marriage Act and the Equality Act, both of which we find detrimental to religious freedom. The administration’s push to expand regulations on sexual orientation, gender identity, and abortion access often undermines religious liberty. We’ve responded through public comments pushing back against these changes across various federal departments including Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, and USAID.

At the state level, our partnership has extended to various SBC groups. With the Arkansas Baptists, we encouraged the adoption of a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In Wisconsin, we joined the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists in an amicus brief supporting a Catholic charity’s right to operate according to their religious convictions. Our advocacy always aims to protect the ability of religious organizations to function without undue government interference.

Marriage and Family

Upholding the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family remains a cornerstone of the ERLC’s advocacy. In 2023, we actively engaged in policy discussions, supporting legislation aligned with biblical values and opposing acts like the Equal Rights Amendment and the Respect for Marriage Act, which deviate from these principles.

We achieved a significant victory in the area of marriage and family with the defeat of the “transgender mandate.” This mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act and implemented through the HHS, would have compelled medical professionals to provide gender-transition care, conflicting with their religious beliefs and medical judgment. Since its inception, we have actively opposed this policy.

In early 2022, we reiterated our stance by submitting public comments to HHS, calling for the repeal of the mandate. Thankfully, two federal court cases challenged the mandate and successfully struck it down as unconstitutional. The Biden administration chose not to appeal these decisions, preserving religious liberty and conscience protections.

We believe that this gender ideology directly contradicts God’s design for family and human flourishing. Our commitment remains strong to oppose any future policies that would undermine these values or infringe upon religious and conscience protections.

Part of our advocacy includes supporting parents in their pivotal role within the family. We collaborated with the Iowa Baptists and Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists to file amicus briefs in state-level cases. These briefs emphasized the critical role of parents and contested any efforts by schools to intervene in matters of gender and sexuality, which are sensitive and significant for a child’s upbringing.

In Congress, our advocacy continues to focus on policies that support and strengthen families. In the post-Dobbs environment, there’s a growing momentum to support vulnerable women and families. While there’s ongoing debate about the most effective policies, it’s heartening to see congressional recognition of family needs and the exploration of creative solutions. The ERLC is dedicated to endorsing policy changes that bolster family and marriage, enhance child welfare, respect the dignity of work, and responsibly manage financial resources.

Human Dignity

The ERLC’s commitment to human dignity is evident in its wide-ranging efforts. From criminal justice reform to the care of immigrants, the Commission has been a vocal advocate for policies that recognize the inherent value of every person because each individual is made in the image of God (imago Dei).

Our work in promoting human dignity faced challenges due to a divided Congress, hindering the passage of significant legislation in areas like immigration and criminal justice reform.

Regarding immigration, we actively advocated for improvements in border security and a permanent solution for “Dreamers.” Despite our efforts, a compromise was not reached in time. We also championed a secure legal status pathway for Afghan and Ukrainian evacuees in the U.S. under “humanitarian parole.” Although these individuals are essentially refugees, they lack formal pathways to permanent status. Disappointingly, the Afghan Adjustment Act, despite having broad bipartisan support, was not included in the final legislative package.

Our commitment to immigration issues led us to join other Southern Baptists on an educational trip to the border. This experience significantly informed our approach, especially in light of the anticipated end of Title 42. Working with SEND Relief, we prepared border states for this policy change and urged Congress to take the necessary actions.

In the realm of criminal justice, we hoped to see the passage of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act in the fiscal year 2023 appropriations. This bill aimed to address sentencing disparities that disproportionately affect Black Americans. Despite its passage in the House and substantial bipartisan Senate support, it was not included in the final appropriations package.

Despite these setbacks, we remain committed to engaging in these critical issues. Our efforts extend to regulating predatory gambling and lending practices, supporting human rights and religious freedom globally, and fighting against human trafficking. Our dedication to these causes is unwavering, even in the face of slow progress, as we continue to advocate for policies that uphold human dignity and justice.

Shaping public policy for Southern Baptist interests

Throughout 2023, the ERLC diligently represented Southern Baptist interests in public policy while navigating complex legislative landscapes. Our work, particularly in defending pro-life and pro-religious liberty provisions in appropriations bills, underscores our influential role in shaping policies that resonate with Southern Baptist beliefs.

As we look to the future, the ERLC remains dedicated to guiding churches in addressing the pressing moral and social issues of our times, continuing our vital role in the service of truth and gospel proclamation.

Editor’s Note: Will you give this year so that the ERLC can do more to support Southern Baptists and represent your interests in 2024? Click here to help us bring hope to the public square.