ERLC focuses on life, liberty in policy agenda

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Protecting human life and religious freedom stand atop the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's Legislative and Policy Agenda for 2017.

The ERLC unveiled its agenda Wednesday (Jan. 18) for a new Congress, as well as a new administration that will begin governing when President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated Jan. 20.

"This new year brings great opportunity to advance legislative issues of critical importance to Southern Baptists, and as an organization the ERLC will be tireless in our witness and in our advocacy," ERLC President Russell Moore said in written comments.

"The last several years have given rise to unprecedented legislative assaults on religious freedom, human dignity, family stability, and other important issues, and I'm excited to engage on these issues with our team to help reverse this trend in the year ahead," Moore said.

Republican control of both the White House and Congress provides hope some of the ERLC's agenda items will have an opportunity for enactment this year. The entity acknowledged, however, the Senate requirement of 60 votes for passage of most bills could prevent such success. During the election campaign, Trump pledged his support of some of the pro-life legislation included in the ERLC's agenda.

In an article accompanying the agenda, the ERLC reported, "We are already hard at work pressing this agenda forward. We have had productive meetings with President-elect Trump's transition team, as well as leadership in the House [of Representatives] and Senate."

In the agenda, Moore and Travis Wussow -- vice president for public policy, as well as general counsel -- said the ERLC has previously worked on some of the issues. The agenda also includes new issues for the commission, they said.

Among the agenda initiatives are:

-- Selection of a pro-life Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

-- Repeal of the abortion/contraception mandate, the rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services that requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions and that can be overturned by the Trump administration without congressional action.

-- Defunding of Planned Parenthood, the scandal-ridden abortion provider that received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements and performed nearly 324,000 abortions, according to its most recent annual reports.

-- Enactment of the Conscience Protection Act and other measures to keep pro-life health-care workers from being coerced into participating in abortions and other procedures to which they object.

-- Passage of 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.

-- Approval of the First Amendment Defense Act, which would bar the federal government from penalizing an individual or institution for believing -- and acting on the belief -- marriage is only between a man and a woman.

-- Enactment of 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.

-- Passage of the Civil Rights Uniformity Act, which would require congressional approval before "gender identity" is classified as a protected category in federal law or policy -- something the Departments of Education and Justice did in a 2016 guidance.

-- Appointment in quick fashion of an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in the wake of the Trump administration's removal of all ambassadors.

-- Approval of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which would approach the reduction of some mandatory minimum sentences in a targeted way while also directing the Department of Justice to partner with non-profit and faith-based organizations to expand programs for recidivism reduction.

The ERLC's agenda may be accessed at https://d1nwfrzxhi18dp.cloudfront.net/uploads/resource_library/attachment/file/75/2017_Legislative_Agenda.pdf.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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