Religious freedom atop ERLC legislative agenda
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Religious freedom leads the issues in the policy plan by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the final year of President Obama's administration.
The ERLC already has been focusing during this congressional session on many of the bills and initiatives cited in its 2016 legislative agenda. In some cases, the House of Representatives adopted proposals promoted by the commission in 2015, while the Senate has yet to approve those measures.
On religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and other issues, the ERLC and its allies face not only the challenge of gaining passage of bills in both houses but in persuading President Obama to sign those proposals into law in his last year in the White House. Any measure that is not enacted in this second year of the congressional session will force a new start on passage next year.
"We will endeavor to prevent such a scenario from happening," ERLC President Russell Moore said in the legislative agenda. The difficulty of convincing the president to sign ERLC-supported bills "was well-illustrated when the president vetoed a bill defunding Planned Parenthood in January," he said.
The ERLC's agenda leads not only with religious freedom and the sanctity of human life but also addresses such issues as human rights, the family, poverty and criminal justice reform.
The commission's legislative priorities this year "reflect our mission as Gospel Christians and as Southern Baptists," Moore said in the news release announcing the agenda March 2. "We have many urgent tasks in front of us, all of which are grounded in the truth of the Gospel and the dignity of every person made in God's image."
Illustrations of the need to protect religious liberty overseas and in the United States have mounted in recent years. Persecution of and attacks against Christians and other religious adherents have been persistent overseas, and government officials in some American states have balked under pressure especially from business interests at enacting safeguards for liberty of conscience.
Among actions the ERLC seeks regarding religious liberty are these in its 2016 agenda:
-- Enactment of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act to provide protections to international religious liberty by establishing new offices and committees to assure a focus on religious freedom and ensure mandatory training on the issue among Foreign Service officials.
-- Defeat of the Equality Act, which would explicitly prevent the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from applying to individuals and organizations that disagree with "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" measures, and passage of the First Amendment Defense Act, which would help protect those who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman.
"Whether you look at it internationally or domestically, religious liberty is under assault today in many ways," said Barrett Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy, in a post that accompanied release of the agenda.
"Our agenda reveals the serious nature of this threat to the church and our determination to protect the church and religious conscience from the heavy hand of the state," he wrote.
Also as part of its legislative agenda, the ERLC calls for approval of:
-- The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act, which would institute a permanent government-wide ban on federal funding of abortion by standardizing prohibitions on such funds that now exist in various federal programs.
-- The Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act to prohibit abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation.
-- The Born-alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to require a health-care professional to provide suitable care for a child born alive after a failed abortion.
-- The Children in Families First Act to simplify the process of international adoption.
-- The Second Chance Reauthorization Act to shut down ineffective programs and expand opportunities for faith-based groups to help rehabilitate prisoners.
The House approved all three of the abortion-related measures in 2015, while the Senate has yet to pass any of them.
As part of its advocacy work, the ERLC has sent or signed onto letters during the last seven months urging congressional support for numerous pieces of legislation, including the First Amendment Defense Act, Born-alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and Second Chance Reauthorization Act. During the last four months, the commission has sponsored two Capitol Conversations panel discussions -- one on the refugee crisis and the other on the Supreme Court's future decision-making regarding abortion -- and cosponsored the first Evangelicals for Life conference.
The ERLC's legislative agenda may be accessed here.