Congress is currently negotiating the details of the reconciliation package, using a legislative tool known as “reconciliation” to advance President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda.
In August, Congress passed a budget resolution that set the stage for the use of reconciliation. Since the U.S. Senate is currently evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing a tie-breaking vote, the reconciliation process allows the Senate to pass tax and spending bills with a simple majority (51 votes) instead of needing to cross the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
As Congress and the administration negotiate the details of the package, the ERLC has multiple concerns with certain provisions in the bill and how these would impact Americans, particularly those of faith.
Southern Baptists affirm the full dignity of every human being and that every life is worthy of protection, beginning with the unborn. We believe life begins at conception, and that abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection. Scripture is clear that every person is made in the image of God, and his knowledge of each of us even precedes the creative act of conception (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13). Messengers to the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.”
The ERLC is committed to ensuring that pro-life protections such as the Hyde Amendment are placed back into the bill. The Hyde Amendment prevents Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. At the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting, messengers unanimously approved a resolution calling Congress and the president to uphold the Hyde Amendment.
The ERLC opposes the exclusion of provisions that fail to protect the religious freedom and conscience protections of millions of Americans. Efforts to codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. As the ERLC has long maintained, a government that is able to pave over the conscience is one that has the unlimited ability to steamroll dissent on any issue.
Religious liberty concerns – child care
The reconciliation package includes expanded access to pre-K and child care programs, but the bill text significantly restricts the participation of faith-based centers and schools.
Since 1990, the federal program to support child care, known as the Child Care and Development Block Grant program (CCDBG) has had specific language that states that “religious providers may receive assistance on the same basis as nonsectarian providers.” However, the reconciliation bill significantly restricts faith-based groups from being able to participate. The way the CCDBG program has traditionally operated is by providing child care certificates to eligible parents who are able to use the certificate for the provider of their choice. CCDBG also protects religious identity, religious teaching, religious hiring, and religious admissions standards of faith-based child care providers that receive these federally funded certificates.
Under the reconciliation program, the child care funding isn’t added to the CCDBG program, but runs parallel to the program and includes new restrictions that would subject the certificates to the Head Start program’s nondiscrimination requirements. Sex discrimination would be prohibited. In addition, religious criteria for hiring and admissions would be prohibited. Some child care facilities operate in sex-segregated facilities, and this requirement would prohibit their participation.
The universal pre-K program would be subjected to the same religion restricting requirements as the child care funding but goes one step further. The program would use grants to fund the program, not issue certificates to parents, and would prohibit any religious teaching or activities in the federally supported pre-K programs.
Federal programs must take into account the desires of parents and the needs of children, and must allow for a pluralistic society in which the faith-based community is able to serve and provide quality child care and education.
Religious liberty concerns – Sexual orientation and gender identity
Congress should ensure that programs and funding opportunities do not exclude people or organizations who operate from deeply held religious beliefs. This legislation must ensure that recipients of funding will not be required to adhere to sexual orientation and gender identity language as a prerequisite for being able to participate in certain programs.
Life concerns – Hyde Amendment
The Build Back Better plan completely excludes any Hyde Amendment protections. The Hyde Amendment is a longstanding pro-life provision, first introduced in 1976, that prevents Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. This policy alleviates taxpayers from being financially responsible for something millions have found to be a grave moral wrong. If the reconciliation bill passed without Hyde Amendment protections, American taxpayers would be mandated to pay for abortion. The result of expanded Medicaid without Hyde Amendment protections would be expanding taxpayer funded abortion.
Life concerns – Abortion on demand
There are multiple instances throughout the bill where funding is directed to programs that would allow for that funding to be used for abortions or for programs that have sent funding to Planned Parenthood.
If human dignity is given to each person in the womb, then abortion is not only an assault on the image of God but also causes irreparable harm to a vulnerable life. We believe abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection and, therefore, cannot be considered health care.
The role of government should be to protect these vulnerable, preborn babies, not to exploit them by removing restrictions on abortion that put their lives in grave danger.