By / Jan 10

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Supreme Court will rule on a case involving an Idaho law that bans nearly all abortions in the state.

The high court agreed to hear a challenge to the law, known as the Defense of Life Act, which makes it a felony for doctors to perform most abortions, with an exception for procedures performed when necessary to save the life of the mother.

Last Friday (Jan. 5), the Supreme Court ruled Idaho can enforce the law while the case involving the legislation is being resolved. The court is expected to hear the case in April, and a decision is expected by early summer.

The Friday ruling put on hold a lower court ruling which blocked the Idaho law, based upon a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration.

Brent Leatherwood, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the lawsuit filed by the Biden administration against the state of Idaho is a wrongful “twist” of federal law seeking to “thwart” the state’s legislation.

Despite what some activists and parts of culture want you to believe, abortion is not health care. In fact, it turns the entire notion of health care on its head. Equally alarming are those who, in the furtherance of abortion, seek to twist federal law to mandate that doctors violate their conscience in the medical care they provide. All of this is preposterous, and the Supreme Court should see through this backdoor attempt by the Biden Administration to thwart Idaho’s ‘Defense of Life’ state law.

Emergency room doctors are more than capable of quickly managing life-threatening situations for mothers like ectopic pregnancies with the utmost care. But they should never be forced to perform elective abortions that terminate the life of a preborn child. The Supreme Court’s decision to review this case is potentially a positive step to both uphold a state’s action to protect life and rebuke the federal government for doing Planned Parenthood’s bidding.

Brent Leatherwood

In a similar case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently determined that ER physicians in Texas were not required to perform emergency abortion care under EMTALA, in a decision announced just days before the high court agreed to rule on Idaho’s law barring abortion.

Leatherwood noted the importance of continuing to fight for the pro-life cause amid these ongoing legal battles.

It is imperative for all of us who care about the lives of preborn children, their mothers and families to make it clear that abortion is wrong, and the ability to end a defenseless life is no freedom at all.

Brent Leatherwood

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Dec 13

On Dec. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and will hear oral arguments in the case this term. In August, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that important safety precautions surrounding the use of the chemical abortion drug, mifepristone, must be reinstated, drastically restricting the availability of this harmful drug. 

The 5th Circuit’s decision did not immediately go into effect due to an earlier ruling from the Supreme Court which temporarily allows mifepristone to remain on the market with no restrictions while litigation proceeds. Now, the Supreme Court will weigh in on the merits of this case and make a final decision on upholding or discarding these precautions.

If the court upholds the 5th Circuit’s ruling, it will reinstate key safety measures such as:

  • limiting the use of the drug to the first 7 weeks of pregnancy,
  • ending mail-order chemical abortions,
  • and requiring in-person medical visits prior to the drugs being prescribed.

Chemical abortions account for a majority of all abortions in the U.S., particularly in states where abortion has been restricted or banned following the Dobbs decision. 

What is this case about?

In November 2022, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit against the FDA on behalf of four pro-life medical groups. The suit claims that the FDA “failed America’s women and girls when it chose politics over science and approved chemical abortion drugs for use in the United States. And it has continued to fail them by repeatedly removing even the most basic precautionary requirements associated with their use.”

These pro-life groups argue that the FDA was wrong to grant the drug mifepristone fast-tracked approval back in 2000. The complaint continues:

The only way the FDA could have approved chemical abortion drugs was to use its accelerated drug approval authority, necessitating the FDA to call pregnancy an “illness” and argue that these dangerous drugs provide a “meaningful therapeutic benefit” over existing treatments.

But pregnancy is not an illness, nor do chemical abortion drugs provide a therapeutic benefit over surgical abortion. In asserting these transparently false conclusions, the FDA exceeded its regulatory authority to approve the drugs.

Currently, 1 in 5 women who take the drug will experience complications that require further medical attention. The case argues that the disposal of original safety precautions that accompanied the drug’s initial approval have led to increased danger to the women and girls who take mifepristone.

In 2016, the FDA:

  • expanded the availability of chemical abortion drugs from 7 weeks of pregnancy up to 10 weeks of pregnancy,
  • changed the dosing regimen,
  • reduced the number of in-person doctor visits from three to one,
  • expanded who could prescribe and administer chemical abortion drugs beyond medical doctors,
  • and eliminated the requirement for prescribers to report non-fatal complications from chemical abortion drugs.  

Then, in 2021, the FDA removed the requirement of in-person dispensing, allowing for abortion drugs to be accessed through the mail and telemedicine without a woman ever seeing a doctor in-person.

At this point in litigation, the court is no longer considering the initial approval of mifepristone but has narrowed its consideration to the removal and potential reinstatement of these vital safety precautions.

What happens next?

This case will now be scheduled for oral argument, likely in early 2024, with a decision expected in June. The court’s previous 7-2 ruling in April was narrowly focused on the availability of mifepristone as litigation proceeded and did not look at the broader merits of the case. It should not necessarily be viewed as a predictor of how the court will rule.

Southern Baptists care about the sanctity of life and dignity of all people, including the preborn. We also care about the health, safety, and welfare of women who have experienced harmful and serious medical complications from these drugs at the hands of the predatory abortion industry. The ERLC is currently evaluating opportunities to file an amicus brief, making these arguments before the court.

If the court upholds this decision from the 5th Circuit, more preborn lives will be saved and more women will be protected from the dangers intrinsic to chemical abortions. We will continue to work toward a day when chemical abortions are no more, and we pray that the Supreme Court will take this step forward as we work to build a true culture of life and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of women and girls.

By / Jun 30

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision in the 303 Creative case that the state of Colorado violated the First Amendment rights of petitioner Lorie Smith by enforcing state anti-discrimination laws against her graphic design business, compelling her to speak in a way that violated her beliefs. Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the court, with Justices Alito, Barrett, Kavanaugh, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts joining. Justice Sotomayor filed the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Kagan and Jackson.

ERLC President Brent Leatherwood commented on this ruling:

If the government can compel an individual to speak a certain way or create certain things, that’s not freedom—it’s subjugation. And that is precisely what the state of  Colorado wanted.

Thankfully, the court has stepped in to say that individual rights may not be paved over by a zealous government. Colorado’s scheme of compulsion and coercion against creators has failed once more. 

But the implications of this ruling extend throughout the nation: People are free to speak, create, and operate in ways that are consistent with their deepest-held beliefs—even when those beliefs are deemed culturally unpopular.

What did the 303 Creative case decision say?

Today’s decision is a landmark ruling in favor of free speech. Quoting previous cases, the court highlighted that the framers designed the First Amendment to protect the freedom to think and speak as one wishes. The government cannot suppress speech simply because it deems it “misinformed or offensive” (17). The court emphasized that technological advancements, such as the internet, do not diminish the protections afforded by the First Amendment. 

Though the opinion recognized the important role that public accommodation laws have played and continue to play in our nation, it noted that these laws can “sweep too broadly when deployed to compel speech” (14) and that “no public accommodations law is immune from the demands of the Constitution” (14). The court took an expansive view of what should be considered “speech,” and thus, be afforded First Amendment protections. 

It also rejected arguments made that Lorie Smith was merely facilitating the speech of others through the creation of a website. It also rejected claims that because each creative professional is unique, prospective clients would be unable to find a satisfactory alternative. As Justice Gorsuch wrote, this would mean that “the more unique his talent, the more easily his voice could be conscripted to disseminate the government’s preferred messages. That would not respect the First Amendment; more nearly, it would spell its demise” (15).

Rather, the First Amendment was designed to establish the United States as “a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands” (26). Justice Gorsuch clarified, “Of course, abiding the Constitution’s commitment to the freedom of speech means all of us will encounter ideas we consider ‘unattractive, misguided, or even hurtful,’ but tolerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer” (25-26).

Why does this decision in the 303 Creative case matter for Southern Baptists?

This ruling provides yet another legal victory for free speech, affirming that creative professionals possess the First Amendment protections necessary to express their core convictions in the marketplace and public square. The ruling also clarifies the understanding of the Free Speech Clause, which carries positive implications for individuals seeking First Amendment protections in the arts and business sectors. Though this case was a win for free speech, it was also a win for religious liberty.

As Southern Baptists, our beliefs on matters of marriage and gender are core to our convictions, pointing to God’s design and the living picture of Christ and his Church. It is essential that people of faith not only have the ability to believe these fundamental truths but also to express them in the public square.

The First Amendment protects this right, and the court’s ruling affirms these robust constitutional protections for free speech —  even when that speech is culturally unpopular. 

What is this 303 Creative case about?

Lorie Smith, owner of the web design firm 303 Creative, challenged a Colorado law that violates her First Amendment rights—the same law used to target Christian cake designer Jack Phillips in the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. In that case, the court ruled favorably for Phillips on narrow grounds but failed to address the underlying conflict between anti-discrimination laws and free speech rights.

Like Phillips, Lorie Smith is a creative professional who serves others through her business. She has created custom websites for people of all backgrounds, but she refuses to use her design skills and creativity to express messages inconsistent with her Christian convictions.

This case first arose when the state of Colorado categorized Smith’s work as a public accommodation. This subjected her business to review under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination, including refusal of service, against any protected class, including sexual orientation or gender identity. This placed Smith’s desire to run her business according to her beliefs in direct conflict with Colorado law.

How did the ERLC engage this case?

The ERLC has written in favor of Lorie Smith, preparing Christians and Southern Baptist churches to respond to this important decision. The ERLC believes that all of our foundational First Amendment rights are interconnected; a weakening of one is a weakening of them all. The Supreme Court has once again affirmed a robust view of these foundational rights, and we applaud this ruling in favor of freedom of speech in the public square. We will continue to advocate for religious freedom, as well as God’s design for marriage and family, no matter what views are fashionable at the time.

By / Jun 30

Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings you should know about. The decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court often directly affect Southern Baptist pastors and churches and the people they serve. That’s why every year the ERLC actively engages in the judicial process on issues that hold immense importance for our churches and the gospel.

But the court also issues rulings in cases that, while they aren’t directly related to the issues we work on, intersect with or are related to topics of concern for Southern Baptists. Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings from the most recent term. 

Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. UNC 

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on two cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions, Inc (SFFA). The cases—SFFA v. UNC and SFFA v. President and Fellows of Harvardaddressed the consideration of race in college admissions. The court was asked to consider whether institutions of higher education can use race as a factor in admissions, and whether Harvard College was violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race, and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives.

The court ruled that colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as an express factor in admissions, a landmark decision that overturns long-standing precedent. In the 1978 case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the court considered a quota system in place at the University of California and established the constitutionality of affirmative action programs 

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the only Black woman on the court, wrote that the majority had “detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences.” But Justice Clarence Thomas, the only Black man on the court, said, “While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”

United States v. Texas

In United States v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked Article III standing to challenge immigration-enforcement guidelines issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security. These guidelines were issued in a memorandum by the Department of Homeland Security to the Acting Director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instructing ICE officials to prioritize the removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to national security, public safety, or border security.

The purpose of these guidelines was to provide a framework for ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement and to promote consistency and transparency in the enforcement of immigration laws. The Biden administration also argued that these guidelines were necessary to prioritize limited resources and focus on individuals who pose a greater risk to the country. However, Texas and Louisiana challenged the legality of these guidelines, arguing that they restrained ICE agents from fully enforcing immigration laws. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked standing to challenge these rules, reinforcing the federal government’s unique role in setting immigration policy.

Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh 

On May 18, the Supreme Court issued opinions in two related cases, Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh. In the Taamneh case, the court unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants (Twitter, Google, and Facebook) aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the relevant attack. 

In both cases the plaintiffs made arguments related to the application of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Additionally, in the Gonzalez v. Google case, the plaintiffs argued that Google, through its subsidiary YouTube, aided, abetted, and conspired with ISIS by allowing the terrorist group to use its platform to spread propaganda and recruit members. The plaintiffs claimed that Google’s algorithms and revenue-sharing practices contributed to the spread of ISIS content on YouTube, and that Google should be held liable for the deaths of their family members in an ISIS attack in Jordan in 2016. In the Twitter v. Taamneh case, the plaintiffs alleged that Twitter, Google, and Facebook aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out an attack in Istanbul in 2017. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants provided material support to ISIS by allowing the group to use their platforms to spread propaganda and recruit members.

The court unanimously ruled in the Taamneh case that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the attack. Based on that ruling, the court declined to address the issues raised about the application of Section 230 protection from liability for aiding terrorists in the Gonzalez v. Google case and remanded it back to the lower courts.

Haaland v. Brackeen 

In the case of Haaland v. Brackeen, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to reject challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal statute that aims to protect the future of Tribal Nations (i.e., the 574 federally recognized Indian Nations) and promote the best interests of Native American children. The case was brought by a birth mother, foster and adoptive parents, and the state of Texas, who claimed that the ICWA exceeds federal authority, infringes state sovereignty, and discriminates on the basis of race. 

The ICWA is a federal law that was passed in 1978 to protect the well-being and best interests of Native American children and families. The law aims to uphold family integrity and stability and to keep Native children connected to their community and culture. ICWA establishes minimum federal standards for the removal of Native children from their families and placement of such children in homes that reflect the unique values of Native culture.  

The Supreme Court rejected these challenges and upheld the ICWA, a victory for the Biden administration and several Native American tribes that defended the law. The majority opinion authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett said the court “declines to disturb the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that ICWA is consistent with” Congress’s authority under the Constitution in Article I. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were the only justices to dissent. 

Moore v. Harper 

The case of Moore v. Harper involved the controversial independent state legislature theory (ISL). This theory arose from the redistricting of North Carolina’s districts by the North Carolina legislature following the 2020 census, which the state courts found to be too artificial and partisan, and an extreme case of gerrymandering in favor of the Republican Party. ISL asserts that only the state legislature itself has the power to set the rules for making state laws that apply to federal elections, from drawing congressional district lines to determining the who-what-when-where of casting a ballot. 

The Supreme Court of North Carolina granted a rehearing in the underlying case, which prompted the justices to request additional briefing on whether they still had the power to rule in Moore. On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the “independent state legislature theory” in a 6-3 decision, affirming the lower court’s ruling that the congressional map violated the state constitution and dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuits. The case was decided in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh filing a concurring opinion, and Justice Thomas dissenting. The case was one of the most high-profile cases the Supreme Court has taken up in recent years, with former federal judge Michael Luttig calling it the “single most important case on American democracy—and for American democracy—in the nation’s history.”

By / Jun 30

Washington, D.C., June 30, 2023—Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, affirmed today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the 303 Creative v. Elenis case, stating that “individual rights may not be paved over by a zealous government.”

In response to the court’s ruling in the 303 Creative free speech case, Leatherwood said: 

“If the government can compel an individual to speak a certain way or create certain things, that’s not freedom—it’s subjugation. And that is precisely what the state of  Colorado wanted.

Thankfully, the court has stepped in to say that individual rights may not be paved over by a zealous government. Colorado’s scheme of compulsion and coercion against creators has failed once more.

But the implications of this ruling extend throughout the nation: People are free to speak, create, and operate in ways that are consistent with their deepest-held beliefs—even when those beliefs are deemed culturally unpopular.

What did the court decide in the 303 Creative free speech case?

The Supreme Court has delivered a landmark ruling in favor of free speech. Quoting previous cases, the court highlighted that the framers designed the First Amendment to protect the freedom to think and speak according to one’s deeply held convictions. The government cannot suppress speech simply because it deems it “misinformed or offensive.” The court emphasized that technological advancements, such as the internet, do not diminish the protections afforded by the First Amendment. 

As Justice Gorsuch noted in the opinion, “No public accommodations law is immune from the demands of the Constitution” (14). The First Amendment was designed to establish the United States as “a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands” (26). Justice Gorsuch clarified, “Of course, abiding the Constitution’s commitment to the freedom of speech means all of us will encounter ideas we consider ‘unattractive, misguided, or even hurtful,’ but tolerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer” (25-26).

What was the 303 Creative free speech case about?

Since 2016, Lorie Smith, founder of the web design firm 303 Creative, has been in the process of challenging a Colorado law that violates her First Amendment rights. 

This same law was used to target Jack Phillips and led to the 2018 Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act. In that case, the court ruled favorably for Phillips on narrow grounds but failed to address the underlying conflict between anti-discrimination laws and free speech rights.

Smith has created various custom websites for people of all backgrounds, but she refuses to use her “design skills and creativity to express messages that violate her deeply held religious convictions,” including the creation of a wedding website for a same-sex couple. 

Why does this case matter to Southern Baptists?

“Southern Baptists have long subscribed to the belief that people of faith should not only be able to hold biblical convictions about marriage and gender, but also to live them out in the public square,” said Hannah Daniel, ERLC policy manager. “No one should be forced to sacrifice their most deeply held beliefs to participate in the marketplace and contribute to our society.” 

More information about this case and ERLC advocacy is available online at the SCOTUS Resource Page.

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 www.erlc.com
Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC.

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 www.erlc.com
Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC.

By / Jun 26

Last week, the ERLC partnered with the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and other multi-faith allies in joining an amicus brief in support of religious liberty at the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The ERLC regularly comes alongside state conventions to work together toward promoting religious liberty, upholding human dignity, serving Southern Baptists, and glorifying God at the state level.

This case, Catholic Charities Bureau v. Wisconsin Labor & Industry Review Commission, raises important religious liberty issues surrounding what is considered “religious” activity and what makes an organization religious. 

What is this case about?

In 1917, as an outflow of their religious convictions, the Catholic diocese in northern Wisconsin founded the Catholic Charities Bureau to serve vulnerable and disadvantaged populations within northern Wisconsin, including people with disabilities, children with special needs, the elderly, and those living in poverty. The organization describes this fulfillment of their religious convictions as “an expression of the social ministry of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Superior.”

The state of Wisconsin provides relief opportunities for unemployed citizens through its taxpayer-funded unemployment insurance program. Religious organizations are permitted to receive an exemption from paying taxes to this program, and the Catholic Charities Bureau sought to obtain this exemption in order to provide funds for an alternative, non-taxpayer funded initiative called the Wisconsin Bishops’ Church Unemployment Pay Program. The organization was ultimately denied this exemption and submitted an appeal as a result. However, the Circuit Court of Douglas County, Wisconsin, ruled that the Catholic Charities Bureau was not operating religious activities through their charitable work because the people their ministry served included non-Catholic and non-church members. 

Essentially, the court maintained that Catholic Charities Bureau’s work was charitable rather than religious, despite the fact that these charitable actions were being taken as a result of deeply held religious beliefs. Consequently, the court ruled that they must continue paying toward the state’s unemployment program. That decision has now been appealed to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court which will revisit the lower court’s ruling.

Why does this matter for Southern Baptists?

Religious liberty is an important principle deeply rooted in the faith of Southern Baptists. As stated in the Baptist Faith & Message (2000), we believe that “God alone is the Lord of conscience.” Therefore, no governing earthly authority has the ability to dictate our religious convictions, personal faith, and acts of biblical worship. We believe that God has ordained the state and its governance, and the state has a duty to protect the religious liberty of every church, denomination, and religious group. (Romans 13:1-7) 

As Becket Law argued, “By separating Catholic Charities Bureau from the Diocese, the court ignored the Catholic Church’s determination regarding how to structure their own religious ministry. By concluding that Catholic Charities Bureau’s activities are not religious because Catholic Charities Bureau serves all those in need and doesn’t proselytize, the court penalized faiths that make caring for those in need—regardless of their religious background—a religious obligation. And, by engaging in a standardless inquiry to determine ‘how religious’ Catholic Charities Bureau and their subsidiary ministries are, the court of appeals entangled secular courts in deeply religious questions, violating the separation of church and state.”

As our brief argued, “By imposing the state’s view of what it means to be religious, based on organizational structure and the who and how of charitable service, the Commission and the appeals court are prescribing a single form of religious orthodoxy in the context of the state unemployment law.” In doing so, the government violates both the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses along with the “church autonomy doctrine.”
It is not the role of government to prescribe how religious organizations should be structured or what the outworkings of their faith should look like. For Southern Baptists, it is not enough to merely have freedom to believe the tenets of our faith. The expression of that belief must also be protected. The ERLC is committed to advocating for this type of robust religious liberty for all people as we seek to live out our most deeply held beliefs in the public square.

By / Jun 14

“Life is precious.” 

We repeat this phrase frequently. As believers, we know this statement pronounces a timeless truth rooted in Scripture. In Jeremiah 1:5, the Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I sanctified you.” This gift of life, given to each of us by God from the moment of conception, is sacred and worthy of fervent prayers, our strongest advocacy, and our sincerest acts of service.

That is why this Commission has sought to help culture understand not just the meaning of, but the responsibilities that spring forth from the phrase, “life is precious.”

In 2023, we helped explain the historic Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision of the Supreme Court that struck down the hideous Roe v. Wade precedent. As the justices did so, they opened up a new chapter for the pro-life movement that we have long prayed for.

While we have continued our urgent work to protect life on Capitol Hill and before our nation’s highest court, I want to briefly draw your attention to the cooperative ways this Commission has been active, not just in areas of policy, but also practical ministry.

In the last year, we have locked arms with conventions in North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, the Southern Baptists of Texas, and the SBC of Virginia, who have all given generously to the life-saving work of our Psalm 139 Project.

And it is fitting that the annual meeting is in Louisiana, as our next ultrasound placement will be in partnership with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home, and the Northshore Baptist Association. These entities have come together, not only as an outstanding example of Baptist cooperation, but also to send a strong signal that we are willing to put our money where our heart is in order to save lives and serve mothers.

The commitment we have to protect life has guided our work at the state and national levels. In partnership with our state conventions, we brought a distinctively Baptist voice to matters important to our churches in our first ever state-level public policy review. We did this through:

  • requesting new safeguards be put in place to protect children from harmful transgender surgeries and destructive interventions in Tennessee;
  • pushing back against school administrators’ attempts to insert themselves in the relationship between a parent and child, both in Iowa and Wisconsin;
  • and standing with Nevada Baptists to successfully urge the governor to reject a bill to make that state a destination for assisted suicide.

At the federal level, we have been a leading voice in opposition to the Biden administration’s efforts to curtail religious liberty and conscience protections through the consequential federal rule-making process.

And overseas, we worked to strengthen this nation’s resolve to oppose authoritarian regimes that assault human dignity, destroy religious freedom, and help those fleeing persecution.

In all these matters, the ERLC is rooted in Scripture, guided by the Baptist Faith & Message, and informed by our convention’s resolutions. And everything we do is grounded in the simple phrase: Life is precious.

That truth has taken on new meaning for me, because the worst day of my life occurred on March 27, when a deranged individual entered the school of my children and opened fire. It would end as the deadliest school shooting in Tennessee history and be added to a horrific list of similar events that continue to plague our society.

Six precious lives were lost.  Seven families were fractured. And each and every child was rendered vulnerable by a person in deep emotional and psychological distress who was in desperate need of help and intervention.

In the following weeks and months, the Lord, who has graciously sustained our family throughout this nightmare, has worked on my heart and opened my eyes to the ways our culture of anger and animosity can so quickly become one of annihilation. Think about all the ways this occurs:

  • The mother who is convinced by a culture of death that the only way to truly thrive is by taking the life of her unplanned child. 
  • The young boy who has his mind preyed upon by social media and unhinged activists to become a pawn in the sexual revolution’s ever-changing definition of gender to the point he thinks he is a girl. 
  • The out-of-work father who, lacking community and neighborly love, chooses to escape into a drug culture rather than support his family. 
  • Or a survivor of abuse who seeks refuge in the church only to become vilified because of some flimsy Pharisaical or political excuse. 

There are many more examples of the ways our lives are rendered vulnerable on a daily basis. Too many. And the Lord is revealing to me all the ways he wants this Commission—and our SBC churches—to be a voice for the voiceless, to speak up for the marginalized, and to be a servant for the widow, the orphan, and the vulnerable.

When I see the three little survivors of the Covenant School shooting in my own home every day, I know that I cannot be quiet and cannot stand idly by while our culture tears itself apart, because life is precious. Far too precious.

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 ERLC.com/SCOTUS.)

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, ERLC.com/SCOTUS, 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.