WASHINGTON (BP) – Americans will go to the polls Tuesday (Nov. 8) with control of Congress and possibly the federal protection of human life and religious freedom on the line.
Meanwhile, voters in multiple states will decide the fate of scores of initiatives, including proposals regarding abortion, religious liberty and marijuana legalization.
Ethics leader Brent Leatherwood encouraged Southern Baptists and other Christians to maintain a biblical perspective as they go to the polls.
“Another Election Day is upon us and all the anxiety that comes with it,” said Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments Monday (Nov. 7) for Baptist Press. “And that is revealing because it shows we’ve elevated electoral politics to an unhealthy place in our lives as Christians.
“That doesn’t diminish the fact there are real stakes with the decisions we encounter as voters,” he said. “One only has to look at a place like Michigan, where a grievous pro-abortion proposition faces voters, or Arkansas, where an opportunity to cement religious freedom protections is on the ballot.
“We should engage these choices thoughtfully and in line with the biblical principles that guide our lives. Doing so allows us to engage in politics as a true act of neighborly love, and not as warfare or combat as some operatives and pundits want us to. Keeping that sort of healthy perspective will prevent us from placing our trust in any one earthly mortal prince (Psalm 146) and instead allow us to keep the King of kings in view as we head to the ballot box.”
Nationally, the Democratic Party has controlled Congress the last two years but is in danger of losing the majority in one or both chambers in Tuesday’s mid-term elections.
In the House of Representatives, Democrats outnumber Republicans 220-212, with three vacant seats. The parties are evenly divided in the 100-member Senate, but the Democrats hold the edge by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ possessing the tie-breaking vote as president of the chamber.
Republicans appear poised to gain majorities in both houses, according to some polling. RealClear Politics, which averages various polls, showed the Senate likely going for or leaning to the GOP by 48-44, with eight toss-ups, Monday. RealClear’s map for the House displayed a likely/leaning advantage for Republicans of 227-174, with 34 toss-ups.
Knowledge of the final party breakdown in Congress may take awhile. Challenges are expected in numerous races, and more than 100 lawsuits regarding various aspects of the elections had already been filed as of Oct. 27, The Associated Press reported. In early voting, more than 32 million voters had already cast ballots, The New York Times reported Nov. 3.
A change in party control, especially in the House, would make a significant difference in which bills receive votes and/or gain passage.
With Democrats in the majority the last two years, the House has approved measures expanding abortion rights – something highly unlikely to occur with Republicans in control. The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to forward those bills to President Biden, though he supported them. The Senate rule requiring 60 votes to cut off debate for action on legislation to take place has worked to the advantage of pro-life advocates.
For instance, the House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) in both 2021 and 2022, with Rep. Henry Cueller of Texas the lone Democrat to join the GOP both times in voting against the measure. The WHPA would surpass the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion by barring federal and state regulations permitted under the 1973 ruling.
The Senate has twice rejected the WHPA this year by falling far short both times of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and bring the proposal to the floor for action.
In another example of this reality, the House passed last year the Equality Act, a far-reaching gay and transgender rights bill endorsed by Biden. The legislation has failed to gain a vote in the Senate.
The ERLC has warned the legislation would cripple the religious freedom of faith-based child welfare entities and pro-life health care workers; undermine civil rights protections for women and girls; and expand abortion rights by defining “sex” to include a pregnancy-related “medical condition.”
Democrats have been unable to gain commitments from all their Senate members to change the rule to eliminate the 60-vote requirement to cut off debate. The addition of two or more senators might enable them to make the change and thereby approve such proposals as the WHPA and the Equality Act in future congressional sessions.
In state initiatives, Arkansas voters will decide whether to add an amendment to their constitution designed to protect religious liberty. The proposal would prohibit the government from burdening religious freedom except when it has a compelling interest and is using “the least restrictive means” to advance that interest.
Sonny Tucker, executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, told Baptist Press in written comments, “It is my sincere hope that the voters of Arkansas value strong protection of religious freedom enough to pass Issue 3, the Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment.
“If passed, the amendment would elevate the language to the state constitution and help protect religious freedom for future generations from the whims and preferences of future elections or politics,” he said Monday. “Strong protection of religious freedom is a great prescription to ensure the health of our society.”
In other state ballot initiatives:
- Abortion: Voters in Kentucky and Montana will vote on pro-life measures, while citizens of California, Michigan and Vermont will determine the fate of proposals that would add the right to abortion to their state constitutions. (See preview here.)
- Gay and transgender rights: Nevada will choose whether to add a constitutional amendment that would include equal rights based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.”
- Marijuana legalization: Voters in five states – Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota – will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana.
- Gambling: California will vote on two gambling proposals, one to legalize sports wagering at licensed racetracks and Indian casinos and one to legalize online and mobile sports betting.
- Slavery: Voters in Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont will determine whether to repeal language in their state constitutions that permits slavery or involuntary servitude as punishments for crimes.
- Clergy: Tennessee will vote on whether to delete from its constitution an article that bars ministers of the Gospel or priests from serving in the state legislature.