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Life, religious liberty top ERLC’s 2014 agenda

WASHINGTON (BP) — The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity will promote life, religious freedom, human rights and family this year in Congress despite “a very difficult period legislatively,” Russell D. Moore says.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission released its 2014 legislative agenda Feb. 4, and Moore, the entity’s president, acknowledged the challenges it faces as a deeply divided Congress approaches the November elections. Each political party controls a congressional chamber — the Democrats the Senate and the Republicans the House of Representatives — and hopes to act in such a way, likely cautiously in at least some cases, to do no worse than maintain that status.

“Between election year jockeying and the ongoing political rancor it will be hard to find a path forward for many of the bills we want to see become law,” Moore wrote on the ERLC’s website.

“While the environment is very toxic politically, we know God has an agenda of His own,” Moore said. “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.”

The agenda begins with protecting vulnerable human beings.

“Of all the areas of interest to the ERLC, the sanctity of human life is our chief concern,” Moore noted.

“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,” he said.

The ERLC’s agenda includes the following among measures designed to protect human life:

— The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, H.R. 7 and S. 946, which would institute a permanent government-wide prohibition on federal funding of abortion by standardizing bans on such funds that now exist in various federal programs. It also would halt money for abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the 2010 health care law, and make certain Americans can easily identify before the ban takes effect whether plans in the health care exchanges include abortion coverage and surcharges. The House approved the proposal Jan. 28 but the Senate — which is controlled by the party that supports abortion rights — has yet to act on it.

— The Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, H.R. 1797 and S. 1670, which will bar 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 passed the bill in June. The Senate has not voted on it.

— The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, H.R. 447 and S. 138, which would prohibit abortion based on the sex or race of the unborn child. While the House bill, H.R. 447, will outlaw both types of discrimination, the Senate version fails to ban race-selection abortion. Neither house has voted on its proposal.

The ERLC will continue to work for initiatives to strengthen religious liberty, Moore wrote.

“God gave humans the freedom to decide whether or not to worship Him,” he said. “If God will not violate the religious freedom He granted to humanity, government should not either. The ERLC will work to protect faith from governmental interference, as we believe God would have us do.”

Among the religious liberty efforts supported by the ERLC are:

— Appointment by President Obama of an ambassador at large for international religious freedom, a now-vacant post.

— The Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, H.R. 301 and S. 653, which will establish a special envoy for the promotion of religious liberty in such countries as Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan. The House approved the bill in July, but the Senate has not voted on it.

— The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, H.R. 3133 and S. 1808, 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. Photographers, bakers and others 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 exercise their religious rights. Neither chamber has acted on the bill.

Other proposals on the ERLC’s agenda include:

— The State Marriage Defense Act, H.R. 3829, 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, H.R. 3323 and S. 1530, which would streamline the process for American households attempting to adopt children overseas.

— Immigration reform that is “just and compassionate,” while including undocumented immigrants. The ERLC has not endorsed specific legislation but continues to call for reform that upholds the rule of law, secures the borders, protects family unity and includes a path to legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify.

Other issues the ERLC will address, Moore said, include human trafficking, hunger, pornography, homosexuality, gambling and poverty.

The ERLC’s legislative agenda may be accessed online at legislative-agenda-for-2014.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).