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ERLC’s priorities are sanctity of life, religious liberty, it tells Congress

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy agency has informed members of Congress of its legislative priorities for this fall and 1998, with the focus on sanctity of human life, religious liberty and family issues.
In an Aug. 28 letter faxed to all senators and representatives, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, listed 10 “immediate priorities,” including passage of a ban on partial-birth abortion, a prohibition on human cloning, a bill designed to alleviate religious persecution overseas, a constitutional amendment to protect religious freedom in this country and a measure providing for education savings accounts to finance children’s education at the elementary and secondary level.
While such actions are “necessary and imperative,” they are “merely the beginning steps in responding to the American people’s yearning for a government that is as concerned about the moral structure of the nation and its religious freedoms as are its people,” Land wrote. “We believe that the goal and prayer of millions of Americans is to bring an end to abortion on demand, not simply the elimination of the horrendous partial-birth abortion ‘procedure.’ Additionally, we believe that we must continue to take steps toward greater freedom for persecuted Christians around the world and renewed protection for religious expression here at home.
“We recognize that any journey, however long, must begin with a first step. We call on Congress to exercise leadership and to respond to these deepest yearnings of the American people by taking the initial steps embodied” in the ERLC’s legislative priorities,” Land wrote.
The ERLC informed senators and representatives of its priorities after it learned the House majority leadership had requested in an Aug. 20 memo for Republican representatives to submit their agendas. After a month-long recess, Congress will reconvene Sept. 2.
Under sanctity of human life issues, the ERLC list is:
— a ban on partial-birth abortion. (The House of Representatives must approve a Senate version before it goes to President Clinton.)
— a ban on human cloning.
— adoption of the Istook/Manzullo amendment, which would require, as part of the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill, parental notification at Title X clinics.
— passage of two amendments to the Foreign Operations appropriations bill. The Smith amendment would prohibit funding of overseas organizations that perform abortions or promote legalization of abortion. The Paul amendment would restrict all funding for foreign population-control activities.
Under religious liberty, the ERLC calls for:
— passage of the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act.
— adoption of the Religious Freedom Amendment.
— enactment of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act.
— approval of a response to the Supreme Court’s June decision overturning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Under family empowerment, the agency supports:
— passage of education savings accounts for kindergarten through the 12th grade. (The provision, sponsored by Sen. Paul Coverdell, R.-Ga., was pulled from the recently approved balanced budget/tax relief bills at the insistence of the president.)
— ending the tax penalty for married couples.
Two days before the ERLC sent its letter, the Christian Coalition announced its legislative priorities. They are:
— passage of the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act.
— enactment of the American Community Renewal Act, which, among other initiatives, would support faith-based organizations’ involvement in assistance for the needy.
— family tax relief.
— adoption of the Religious Freedom Amendment.
— education reform, including passage of the Coverdell provision.
Christian Coalition President Don Hodel said about its top issue, persecution, in a prepared statement: “It is time for the Congress, the administration, churches and corporate leaders to take this issue seriously and place the full focus of public opinion behind a coordinated effort to end this horrendous abuse of very basic human rights.”
The Aug. 26 forum at which Hodel announced the organization’s agenda was sponsored by Human Events, a conservative, Washington-based publication. At the same forum, 1996 Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes continued his outreach to social conservatives, urging Congress again to send Clinton a partial-birth abortion ban and supporting voluntary school prayer efforts, according to The Washington Times.
While Hodel said the Christian Coalition supported the balanced budget agreement, Forbes called it an “abomination,” The Times reported. Forbes said Republicans are “badly off message,” according to The Times.