The past year has seen the ERLC have to adapt, like all SBC entities, to the new circumstances of a global pandemic. However, our mission of advancing the gospel of Christ in the public square continues unabated, even as it takes new forms. The ERLC continues its work of engaging the culture with the gospel of Christ in every area of life, including technology ethics, adoption regulations, religious liberty concerns before the Supreme Court (where our amicus brief was cited in a majority opinion protecting the freedom of religious institutions), and the equipping of local churches as they adapt to the new circumstances of the past year. Some places where the ERLC has focused considerable attention are the areas of sexual abuse and the Caring Well challenge, religious liberty concerns and COVID-19, and continued protection and advocacy for the unborn.
Sexual Abuse and Caring Well
Coming out of last year’s national conference (the largest ever hosted by the ERLC), the ERLC has continued to work in the area of preventing sexual abuse and protecting survivors. The Caring Well Challenge was taken up by a number of churches who have committed to making their churches to preventing and responding to sexual abuse (churches who would like to begin the challenge can do so here). Further, we continue to generate resources and tools to help churches in this area, including policies for crafting hiring guides, a curriculum for use in churches, and numerous articles on the topic. Recognizing that this is not a place where we can grow complacent, we must continue to evaluate policies, serve survivors, and protect the vulnerable in our churches.
Religious Liberty and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a number of religious freedom issues, as our country closed in March 2020 and is now in various stages of reopening. These public health orders have created thousands of potential areas of conflict, as community officials individually respond to local conditions. The ERLC has consistently and repeatedly advocated that the state treat churches the same as similar activities, businesses, and spaces, while recognizing that God has given the state the authority to manage activities, businesses, and spaces during a national health crisis. The ERLC has produced a number of resources to equip churches as they work to understand the public health orders issued in their community.
Another priority in this moment has been the engagement with local officials to advocate for the religious liberty rights of people of faith, especially Christians. The ERLC’s advocacy in this space has repeatedly stressed the need for partnership between church and state leaders in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 and protect the communities they serve. At various points, contact was also made with municipal and county authorities when conflicts could threaten the religious freedom of churches in local contexts. These conversations included efforts to identify church partners to serve vulnerable populations in need of housing in Tennessee; ensuring pastors and their audio/visual staff were listed as essential in order to record worship services in Georgia; providing guidance for First Amendment protections with contact tracing in Arkansas; discussions to de-escalate law enforcement measures in California.
Further, the ERLC has worked to protect and serve churches through offering consultation and guidance on government initiatives during the pandemic. As a response to the pandemic, the federal government created a number of new programs, some of which were open to churches and faith-based organizations. However, the way these programs were initially created raised a number of religious freedom concerns, particularly with respect to the applicability of problematic nondiscrimination statutes. The ERLC led a coalition of organizations to ensure that faith-based organizations could engage the SBA Paycheck Protection Program and other vehicles created by the CARES Act without risking infringement of their religious freedom. In addition to CARES Act funding, the ERLC continues to advocate for a universal charitable deduction to remove hurdles for individual giving to churches and faith-based organizations. Although this policy provision was not ultimately included in the
CARES Act, this remains a top priority for the ERLC.
Protection of the Unborn
Though the pandemic has changed much, it has not lessened our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable. The ERLC continues its advocacy for the preborn in a number of ways. Some significant points of emphasis this past year have included our renewed engagement on protecting the Hyde Amendment, advocating for the passage of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, defunding Planned Parenthood, and opposing fetal tissue research.
In addition, the ERLC continues our work in defending the most vulnerable in a multitude of ways. We work tirelessly in the courts, filing friend-of-the court briefs at all levels of our federal judiciary on behalf of the unborn. We have urged Congress, for several years, to defund Planned Parenthood. Through the work of Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC regularly places ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers around the country so unwed mothers will choose life. In connection with the March for Life each year, we host a national conference where we urge Christians to make their voice heard on abortion in Washington, D.C. The ERLC also regularly convenes pro-life leaders from around the country to strategize on the best way to pass laws protecting the unborn at both the state and federal level.