President Joe Biden’s actions on his first day in the White House produced both praise and objection from the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
Biden signed 17 executive orders or memoranda Jan. 20, only hours after his inauguration as the 46th president of the United States. While it is common for a new president to sign orders shortly after taking office, the number of actions by Biden on his first day far surpassed those of recent presidents, according to The Wall Street Journal. The new president’s actions included directives regarding immigration and gay and transgender rights.
He did not sign an order rescinding the pro-life Mexico City Policy, but federal infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci told the World Health Organization Jan. 21 the president would take such action, The Hill reported.
On Thursday, Biden signed multiple orders designed to address the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now resulted in more than 408,000 deaths in the U.S., according to data compiled by the John Hopkins University.
Some of the president’s actions “are praiseworthy, as they accord with the convictions and biblical principles of Southern Baptists,” the ERLC’s public policy staff said in a website post Thursday. “However, some of the administrative actions raise concern for the ERLC as they conflict with our public policy positions, informed by our theological convictions.”
Here are some of the orders or memoranda with analysis by the ERLC:
- Biden signed an order to protect gay and transgender rights in federal agencies.
The order prohibits discrimination based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in June 2020 the category of “sex” in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act applies to homosexual and transgender employees.
The executive order, the ERLC said, “dramatically expands the scope of the [Supreme Court’s] decision, which only applies in the employment context.”
“Sexual orientation” and “gender identity” can be considered protected classifications in such contexts as education and health care under Biden’s order, creating “a host of religious liberty problems,” according to the ERLC.
The ERLC will defend the freedom of conscience and religion of Americans who believe what the Bible teaches about sexuality and marriage, according to the article: “Ensuring that these bedrock rights are respected by federal agencies will be crucial to the ability of faith-based organizations and people of faith to live out their faith and serve their communities without violating their consciences.”
- The president issued a memorandum that directed the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, with counsel from the attorney general, to sustain and strengthen Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The DACA program was established under President Obama to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday. DACA participants, known as Dreamers, must meet certain requirements, including employment or education, to qualify.
The Trump administration rescinded DACA, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the action last year, ruling the action was “arbitrary and capricious.”
The ERLC “has long advocated” for “a permanent solution for this special category of immigrants,” according to the article. “We believe the only sustainable way forward, recognizing the range of beliefs about the legality of the DACA program, is for Congress to legislate a path to legal permanent resident status and, eventually, citizenship for Dreamers.”
Twice in the last decade, messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting have approved resolutions on immigration reform that called for securing the border and establishing “a just and compassionate path to legal status,” with restitutionary measures, for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
- Biden revoked a Trump administration ban on entry into the United States by people from seven primarily Muslim countries and some African countries.
While affirming the Trump administration’s effort to protect Americans, ERLC President Russell Moore had expressed concerns about some of the consequences of the policy, which was labeled as the “Muslim ban” when it was initiated in 2017. SBC messengers had reaffirmed ministry to refugees at the 2016 annual meeting in a resolution that also called for “the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process.”
The ERLC said it welcomed Biden’s action, saying Southern Baptists’ “commitment to welcoming the stranger has long been reflected in the SBC’s resolutions about those fleeing persecution in their home countries.”
- The White House issued a freeze on new Trump administration regulations that had yet to take effect.
The ERLC “strongly opposes” the action, it said in the Thursday post. The freeze may prevent lawful rules, including several it supports, from being finalized, the ERLC said. If a new rule regarding nondiscrimination in federal grants published Jan. 12 does not become final, it could harm child-welfare providers who serve children in ways that are consistent with their faith, according to the post.
Though Biden has yet to rescind the Mexico City Policy, the ERLC has been a long-time supporter and said in Thursday’s article it “would strongly object to its rescission.”
The policy – first implemented by President Reagan at a 1984 conference in Mexico City — prohibits international family planning organizations from receiving federal funds unless they agree not to perform or counsel for abortions or lobby in order to liberalize the pro-life policies of foreign governments. The policy has been on a political seesaw for more than 36 years. After Reagan’s action, it remained in force until 1993, when President Clinton rescinded it. President George W. Bush reinstated it eight years later, only to see it overturned by President Obama.
The Trump administration expanded the policy’s reach to “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies” and renamed it the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy.”
In some other actions Wednesday, Biden:
- Mandated facemasks for federal employees and on federal property to combat COVID-19.
- Halted construction of the wall on Mexico’s border and announced a review of President Trump’s emergency declaration that enabled funds to be redirected to the project.
- Repealed the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
- Restored the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement.
- Reinstated the country’s membership in the World Health Organization.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau for Baptist Press.)