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ERLC’s agenda includes religious liberty, life

WASHINGTON (BP) — Measures to protect religious freedom and the sanctity of human life top the 2015 legislative agenda for the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) unveiled Feb. 11 its goals for the new congressional session. Unlike last year, the new Congress will be controlled by one party, the Republicans. The change from a divided Congress occurred in November, when the GOP won control of the Senate.

The ERLC faces the challenge not only of gaining passage of its priorities in the Senate and House of Representatives but of overcoming the frequent opposition of the White House, where Democratic President Barack Obama has two more years.

The ERLC acknowledged the political realities in its legislative agenda.

“While the environment remains very toxic politically, we know God has an agenda of His own,” said ERLC President Russell Moore and Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy. “We will seek to understand His will as we bring Southern Baptist biblical convictions to bear on the great public policy questions of our day.”

Religious liberty is particularly important at this time, according to the ERLC.

“The ERLC exists to be a witness to and advocate for issues of the common good important to Baptists,” Moore said in a news release announcing the legislative agenda. “In a cultural moment when religious freedom is increasingly imperiled, with a new Congress, we have new opportunities to engage on these important issues, and I look forward to working with our team to engage in the public square for the cause of religious freedom and the common good.”

Among the ERLC’s religious freedom goals are:

— Passage of the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which would bar the federal government from discriminating against a person who acts on his belief that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman or that sex is reserved for marriage. Photographers, bakers and florists who have refused to participate in same-sex ceremonies because of their Christian convictions have lost in court or suffered financially despite their appeals to the right to exercise their religion.

— Approval of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which would exempt from the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate in the 2010 health-care law those who object because of religious convictions. It also would protect the conscience rights of health-care providers and institutions that refuse to provide or pay for abortions or make referrals to abortion providers.

— Adoption of legislation to protect the freedom of adoption agencies to place children in households based on the entities’ religious convictions.

— Appointment by the president of a special envoy called for in the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, which became law last year. The envoy would promote religious liberty in such countries as Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan.

— Reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan advisory panel that informs Congress, the White House and State Department on the condition of religious liberty overseas.

The sanctity of human life is still “a chief concern,” Moore and Duke wrote in the agenda. “While we are not yet at the place politically or culturally to reverse the horrific 1973 Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion on demand, we believe some steps to rein in the worst abuses are possible. Several bills offer us the opportunity to do just that.”

Among those bills, they said, are:

— The Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would 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 House was scheduled to vote on the bill Jan. 22, but its leaders canceled the vote after some GOP members raised concerns about a reporting requirement for victims of rape or incest. New language on the reporting requirement is being formulated, according to the ERLC.

— 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. It also would make certain Americans can identify whether abortion is covered in health insurance plans. The House passed the proposal Jan. 22.

— The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which would outlaw abortion based on the sex of an unborn child. The ERLC is seeking inclusion in the legislation of a ban on race-selection abortion.

Other proposals on the ERLC’s agenda include:

— The State Marriage Defense Act, which will direct the federal government to look at a person’s state of legal residence in deciding marital status of same-sex couples.

— The Children in Families First Act, which would streamline the process for American households attempting to adopt children overseas.

— Sufficient funding for the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ effort to establish technology to circumvent Internet firewalls in such countries as China and Vietnam.

— Immigration reform that is “just and compassionate” and includes undocumented immigrants.

The ERLC will continue to oppose passage of the Employment Non-discrimination Act, which would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of homosexual, bisexual or transgender status. The bill fails “to take into consideration all faith-based organizations or the faith-informed convictions of for-profit business owners,” Moore and Duke said.

Other issues the ERLC intends to address, Moore and Duke said, include human trafficking, criminal justice reform, hunger, pornography, homosexuality, gambling, predatory payday lending and poverty.

The ERLC’s legislative agenda may be accessed online here.

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