WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity hopes to recover “lost ground” and make progress on new fronts in this session of Congress.
Writing on the website of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Richard Land and Barrett Duke said the new Congress provides “a different set of opportunities and challenges” in contrast with the previous one. Following the 2010 November election, the ERLC “will now be working with a more conservative Congress,” they wrote in outlining the entity’s legislative agenda for the year.
“We look forward to the opportunity to regain lost ground, stop any further erosion, and make new advances for biblical values,” said Land, the ERLC’s president, and Duke, the entity’s vice president for public policy and research. “We will continue to look for ways to move responsible, God-honoring measures forward.”
They acknowledged progress for the ERLC’s agenda will be difficult, since the Congress is divided. Both houses of the previous Congress were controlled by Democrats. Now, the House of Representatives majority is “predominantly conservative,” while the Senate majority remains “predominantly liberal,” Land and Duke said.
“The ideological differences between the two chambers are certain to make passage of any legislation more difficult,” they wrote. “While this means fewer liberal gains, it also means limited conservative gains. Furthermore, stalemate in Congress is likely to lead the president to seek to advance the liberal agenda through new regulations developed and enforced by the various government agencies run by the Executive Branch.”
The shift to a Republican majority in the House likely means the ERLC will not have to deal with some of the concerns it faced in the last Congress, Land and Duke said.
In the last session, “we spent most of our time resisting liberal efforts to undermine biblical values,” they said. Land and Duke cited as likely “non-starters” in this session the pro-abortion Freedom of Choice Act, repeal of the pro-marriage Defense of Marriage Act and abolition of protections for faith-based organizations’ rights in hiring.
The ERLC agenda outlined by Land and Duke covers a wide variety of issues, including sanctity of human life, health care, marriage, the homosexual agenda, religious freedom, immigration reform, poverty, administrative overreach and the environment.
Land and Duke cited the following among items on the ERLC’s legislative agenda:
— Codification of the Mexico City Policy, which previously barred federal money for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas. President Obama used his executive power to rescind the policy, which means the United States “is now actively engaged in promoting abortion around the world,” Land and Duke said.
— Passage of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, a government-wide ban that “will address many of our concerns about taxpayer funds being used for abortion,” they wrote.
— Enactment of a ban on federal funds for Planned Parenthood, the country’s No. 1 abortion provider and leading recipient of Title X family planning money.
— Repeal of last year’s health-care law and replacement with a “realistic alternative,” they said. If repeal fails, Land and Duke said the ERLC will support attempts to stop the law’s enforcement and to replace “as much of it as possible until it achieves true sustainable health care reform.”
— Ratification of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. “We believe we have come to a crucial juncture and that the question of the definition of marriage must be settled,” they said.
— Resistance to efforts to promote the homosexual agenda, including the Employment Non-discrimination Act, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to a list of characteristics an employer cannot consider in hiring, firing and promotion decisions. It would expand the list that currently includes race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
— Passage of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget limited to 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, with exceptions for war and other crises.
— Exposure of attempts at administrative overreach by the president and federal agencies to institute policies when the administration’s legislative efforts fail.
— Continuation of attempts to help focus attention on and provide relief for persecuted Christians and others around the world. “The administration has continued to disappoint us with its tepid response to human rights and religious liberty violations,” they said.
— Defeat of such proposed treaties in the United Nations as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the U.N. Defamation of Religions resolution.
— Action by the Obama administration to distribute congressionally approved funds to organizations able to implement technology to break Internet firewalls set up in totalitarian states.
The ERLC’s legislative agenda may be accessed online at http://erlc.com/article/legislative-agenda-for-2011/.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.