The Southern Baptist Convention’s lead ethicist and other pro-life leaders have promised to resist a new District of Columbia law they say will force their organizations to violate their beliefs and mission.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), joined seven other officials whose organizations have offices in America’s capital in an open statement defying the Reproductive Health Non-discrimination Amendment Act (RHNDA). The signers – including leaders with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Americans United for Life, the March for Life, Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America and Family Research Council – issued the statement May 4 after Congress failed to prevent the D.C. law from going into effect.
RHNDA, which will become effective soon, will prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee or a dependent on the basis of that person’s “reproductive health” decisions, which could include abortion. The measure seeks to force the pro-life organizations to act in contradiction to their religious beliefs and purpose by supporting those who oppose their teachings on the sanctity of all human life, they said.
“Despite the enactment of this unjust law, we will continue to hire employees who share our commitment to the dignity of every member of the human family,” Moore and the others said in the letter organized by ADF. “We will not abandon the purpose of our organizations in order to comply with this illegal and unjust law. We will vigorously resist any effort under RHNDA to violate our constitutionally protected fundamental rights.”
In a written statement for Baptist Press, Moore said the law “is not about reproductive health or protecting people against discrimination – it is an unjust targeting law designed to steamroll the consciences of pro-life citizens and organizations operating in the District of Columbia. This joint statement makes it clear that we see through this craftiness and recognize it for what it is: a gross repudiation of religious liberty in our nation’s capital.”
The measure, ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox said, constitutes “an unnecessary and illegal attack on pro-life conscience” his organization will fight in court if needed.
The House of Representatives acted to overturn the D.C. law, but the Senate failed to do so. On April 30, the House approved in a 228-192 roll call a resolution that disapproved of the D.C. law. The Senate, however, failed to vote on a similar resolution before time for such action expired. Lawmakers have not approved such a resolution in more than 20 years, according to published reports.
Congress, which has oversight over D.C. laws, had 30 legislative days to disapprove the measure after the D.C. Council forwarded it to the Senate and House March 6. Had both houses passed a resolution of disapproval, it would have gone to President Barack Obama for his signature. His administration issued a policy statement April 30 that threatened a veto.
The fact the House “took the extraordinary step of formally disapproving this bill demonstrates just how unprecedented and illegal RHNDA is,” Moore and his allies said in their statement.
After concerns were expressed from within the district government, the D.C. Council amended the measure to clarify it would not require employers to provide insurance coverage to workers for abortion, contraception and other “reproductive health” decisions. The amendment, however, is temporary. It will end after 225 days.
The D.C. Council did not seek to solve an actual problem “but to attack the many pro-life and religious organizations that make D.C. their home,” the statement from the pro-life leaders said. “RHNDA is aimed squarely at the freedom of our organizations to draw our workforces from among those who share our foundational commitment to the sanctity of human life.”
The law also is “aimed squarely at our freedom to purchase and provide employee health plans that comport with our pro-life beliefs,” they said.
In addition to Moore and Mattox, the other statement signers were Charmaine Yoest, president, Americans United for Life; Jeanne Monahan-Mancini, president, March for Life; Marjorie Dannenfelser, president, Susan B. Anthony List; Penny Nance, president, Concerned Women for America; Travis Weber, director, Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty; and Thomas Cathey, director of legal legislative issues, Association of Christian Schools International.
The ERLC has offices in both Washington, D.C., and Nashville.
Another new law that the ERLC and other pro-family and socially conservative organizations oppose will go into effect soon. The Human Rights Amendment Act will eliminate a long-standing exemption from the district’s gay rights law for religiously affiliated, educational institutions.
Moore joined others in signing onto a letter in February that urged Congress to reject both D.C. measures.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)