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 / Mar 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis on advancing gender equity

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

Potentially helpful areas of investment

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

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

What’s next?

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

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