Author archives: Connor Semelsberger, MPP

FRC On the Hill (September 21-25)

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

September 25, 2020

Issues related to life, family, and religious freedom continue to be debated in Congress in the lead up to the election. Family Research Council wrapped up another busy week monitoring these issues and being your voice on Capitol Hill. Here are the biggest items from the past week:

Senate Seeks to Save Moms and Babies

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) made a unanimous consent request for the Senate to pass the Support and Value Expectant Moms and Babies (SAVE) Act, which would codify the safety restrictions (risk-evaluating and management strategies, or REMS) placed on chemical abortion pills by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

First approved by the FDA in 2000 under pressure from the Clinton administration and its pro-abortion allies, chemical abortion pills are known to have serious complication risks, which can sometimes be life-threatening for the women who use them. The REMS impose several commonsense safety restrictions on the dispensing of chemical abortion pills, such as ensuring women receive the pills from physicians, are made fully aware of the associated risks, and know how to seek follow-up care from a doctor in the event of complications.  

Recently, some Democrats have pushed to repeal the REMS. In his remarks on the bill, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) noted that some Democrats advocate for chemical abortion pills being available by mail, with no additional information or care provided.

The risks chemical abortion pills pose to women are real, and they are serious. As Lee pointed out, “Women have suffered tragic, gruesome, and horrific experiences using the abortion pill.” Since its approval, abortion pills have caused over 4,200 medical problems, including more than 1,000 hospitalizations and nearly 600 life-saving blood transfusions. Twenty-four women have died from complications caused by abortion pills.

The repeal of the REMs would surely lead to greater harm to mothers. The SAVE Act should not be controversial, but pro-abortion Democrats have turned even the most basic conversations about women’s health into debates about Roe v. Wade. The truth is, Sen. Hyde-Smith’s bill says nothing about the 1973 Supreme Court decision.

As Lee said, “Something’s terribly wrong if we can’t have a conversation about women’s health without being accused of wanting to undo an entire line of precedent dating back to 1973.”

For those who care about expectant mothers’ health, Sen. Hyde-Smith’s bill is a welcome measure.

Untangling Government Subsidies for the Abortion Industry

Congress is taking steps to untangle Planned Parenthood from taxpayer subsidies.  Representative Michael Cloud (R-Texas) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced the Women’s Public Health and Safety Act, a bill that would amend the Medicaid statute to give states the ability to exclude abortion businesses from participating in Medicaid.

Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that provides health care coverage for millions of low-income Americans. The Hyde Amendment does prohibit federal Medicaid funds from paying for elective abortions directly. However, Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses will perform other services besides abortion and are reimbursed for those services with a mix of federal and state Medicaid funds.

The most recent report published by the Government Accountability Office revealed that in 2015 Planned Parenthood received $414.37 million in federal Medicaid reimbursements alone! Although the funds cannot be used to pay for abortions directly, these funds subsidize the abortion industry by allowing abortion facilities to be reimbursed for other services they perform, which then frees up other money to hire abortionists, pay for abortions, or build abortion facilities.

Fourteen states have attempted to exclude Planned Parenthood from participating in Medicaid, but because of a provision in the federal Medicaid statute, all of these efforts have been blocked by federal courts. Now is the time for Congress to clarify the Medicaid statute once and for all and give states the ability to make their Medicaid program free from elective abortion.

Senate Bill Would Protect Female Athletes Nationwide

Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) introduced the Protection of Women and Girls and Sports Act, which would make it a violation of Title IX for a school receiving federal funds to permit a biological male to participate in a sports program designated for women and girls.

Title IX is well known for its expansion of educational and athletic opportunities for women. With this bill, Loeffler is taking action to block what may be the biggest threat to girls and women’s sports since Title IX was adopted—the effort by some biological males who identify as female to compete against biological females. In the state of Connecticut alone, female high school track athletes have lost 15 medals to biological males in state competition in the last two years, reducing their chances for college athletic scholarships in the process.

Loeffler is the perfect senator to introduce this bill. She is a grateful beneficiary of Title IX, having played basketball and run cross-country and track in high school. As an adult, she invested financially in women’s sports by becoming a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream of the Women’s National Basketball Association. Now, as a U.S. senator, she is seeking to protect the opportunities afforded by Title IX for future generations of female athletes.

Regardless of what one thinks about the transgender movement or “gender identity” protections in other areas of life, fair athletic competition demands a policy like the one outlined in the Protection of Women and Girls and Sports Act. It is great to see Sen. Loeffler and her bill’s co-sponsors standing up for the rights of women and girls.

Other Notable Items

  • The House took action to protect religious freedom in China by passing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. The bill would require companies to prove that goods produced in Xinjiang, China, and imported to the U.S. are not made using forced labor of the Uyghur Muslim minority. It passed with near-unanimous support!
  • The House Judiciary Committee attempted to hold a hearing on oversight of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. However, it quickly turned into a partisan grandstand against Attorney General Bill Barr and his team of lawyers. Representatives Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) did a great job defending DOJ’s work to protect religious freedom from aggressive state and local coronavirus lockdown measures. 
  • Acting United States Secretary of Homeland (DHS) Security Chad Wolf sat before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in a nomination hearing to be confirmed into the role of DHS Secretary. The acting secretary has been a strong leader in protecting American cities against the recent threat of violent mobs and riots.

FRC On the Hill (September 14-18)

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

September 18, 2020

Issues related to life, family, and religious freedom continued to be debated in Congress after its return from August recess. Family Research Council wrapped up another busy week monitoring these issues and being your voice on Capitol Hill. Here are the biggest items from this week:

Pro-Life Concerns with Vaccine Development

In Wednesday’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on coronavirus response efforts, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) urged panelists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to pursue an ethical coronavirus vaccine. All vaccines use human tissue in their production, but not all use tissue derived from ethical sources. As Lankford explained, some companies are using stem cells from adults or the placentas of born children to pursue a vaccine, while others (such as Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) are using tissue derived from aborted children. 

Lankford voiced the concerns the pro-life community has with vaccines developed from aborted children. He reminded the scientific and medical communities that the dignity of every human being must never be compromised. He also pointed out that vaccines from ethical sources will be more effective, as they will be better received by the public. “I don’t want to have a reason for people to not go get a vaccine because they’re concerned about the origin of the vaccine,” Lankford said to the panelists. “I want as many people as possible to actually get a vaccine because I think it’s important.” 

CDC Director Robert Redfield did not have an immediate answer to the pro-life concerns with vaccine development but assured Sen. Lankford that his office would follow up with more details.

Vote on Marijuana Legalization Delayed Due To Public Pressure

On Thursday, Democratic leaders from the House of Representatives announced the postponement of the vote on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884). If passed, this bill would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. Originally scheduled for a vote on the House floor next week, public pressure from groups opposed to the drug’s decriminalization has resulted in its delay. Family Research Council is part of the opposition effort led by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an organization that dedicates itself to educating and lobbying against the legalization of marijuana at both the federal and state levels.

Although Democratic leaders say they remain committed to bringing the MORE Act to a vote before the end of the year, this delay proves that public pressure has real consequences in Congress and that Americans want public officials to focus on the coronavirus pandemic, not partisan priorities. This delay will give those opposed to the decriminalization of marijuana even more time to voice their concerns with the bill and change some minds in the House of Representatives.  

Other Notable Items

  • The Trump administration proposed a new federal regulation that would expand the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy. This policy requires non-governmental organizations to agree, as a condition of their receipt of U.S. federal grant money, to neither perform nor promote abortion as a method of family planning overseas. The Trump administration’s new rule, if implemented, would apply this policy to contracts and subcontracts as well as grants.
  • House Republicans led a last-minute amendment effort to add religious liberty protections for employers to the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694).
  • Democratic strategists have amplified their efforts to eliminate the filibuster if they regain control of the Senate. This move would allow a simple majority of senators to pass radical liberal policies like the Equality Act or the Green New Deal.

Ruth Moreno, a Policy & Government Affairs intern, assisted in writing this blog.

Snopes Overlooks the Facts in Its Fact-Check of the Senate Born-Alive Vote

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

August 25, 2020

By omitting several key elements of the abortion survival debate, Snopes’ fact-check of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (SB 311) is not an unbiased appraisal of the issue. Rather, it is a lackluster attempt to provide cover for U.S. senators who failed to support federal protections against infanticide.

Here is a fact-check of Snopes’ fact-check.

 

Snopes’ Claim:

Thirty-four states have “laws offering various levels of protection for babies born alive after failed abortions, and various levels of criminal penalties set out for health care practitioners who fail to provide care for them.”

What’s True:

Actually, thirty-five states have some form of legal protection for infants born alive after failed abortions. Yet, nearly two-thirds of state laws do not have criminal penalties for physicians who fail to provide medical care to infants born alive.

Snopes mentions FRC’s Born-Alive Protections Map in its fact-check, but completely misses the map’s main takeaway. Yes, 35 states have some form of born-alive law on the books, but only 16 of those states mandate an appropriate form of care and impose penalties on physicians who fail to provide said care. The remaining 19 states do not provide necessary protections for abortion survivors. Most simply mirror the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002, which recognized and defined any child surviving a failed abortion as a full person under the law but failed to provide any concrete ways to hold physicians accountable for killing or denying medical care to infants who survive abortion.

It appears that Snopes erroneously conflates different elements of born alive laws in asserting that “two-thirds” of states have “various levels of criminal penalties” in their born-alive laws.

Snopes also conveniently omits that New York and Illinois repealed born-alive laws in 2019.

 

Snopes’ Claim:

Democrat and Independent U.S. senators voted against the federal Born-Alive bill (SB 311) because it would have interfered with the doctor-patient relationship and undermined legal abortion access.

What’s True:

SB 311 contains no language that would undermine current abortion laws. The bill merely seeks to ensure adequate protections for born-alive infants who have survived an abortion. As the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ben Sasse, explained on the Senate floor before the 2019 vote: “The bill’s terms are simple. A child born alive during a botched abortion would be given the same level of care that would be provided to any other baby born at the same gestational age….This bill is exclusively about protecting babies that have already been born and are outside the womb.”

Rather than quote the bill’s sponsor, Snopes relied entirely on quotes from Democrat senators who opposed the bill. While these Democrat senators may have claimed a potential breach of the doctor-patient relationship as a reason for opposing the bill, no such breaches have been raised in the 16 states with born-alive laws comparable to SB 311. Furthermore, born-alive laws in these states have had no proven effect on access to late-term abortions.

 

Snopes’ Claim:

Democrat senators voted against SB 311 because they felt it was unnecessary in light of existing law. Senator Mazie Hirono said the bill was “a solution in search of a problem.”

What’s True:

Studies from around the world confirm that infants can and do survive abortion. A 2018 European study found that over half of 241 pre-viable pregnancies resulted in live births following attempted abortions. A CDC report from 2003-14 revealed that at least 143 infants died after being born alive from an abortion. Only eight U.S. states currently require reporting on abortion survivors, but in those states, there have been at least 179 survival cases. Minnesota reported three cases in 2019 in its July 2020 report. Florida, which provides live updates of born-alive survivors, has reported four cases in 2020 alone. These reports show that infants can and do survive late-term abortions, and the states that provide accurate reporting report several cases each year.

We should all agree that whether by neglect or intentional means, the killing of a baby who has been born alive is abhorrent. Since so few states provide detailed information on abortion survivors, the scope of the problem is not fully known. Even one child born alive who dies after surviving an abortion attempt because they were denied medical care is too many.

Even Snopes grudgingly admitted in its article: “SB 311 would introduce a “born alive” abortion law that would apply uniformly throughout the entire country. By voting to block the progress of SB 311, the Democratic and Independent senators did undoubtedly prevent that outcome from becoming much more likely” (bolding mine).

State Department Reaffirms That the U.S. Can Meet Global Health Goals While Protecting Life

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

August 19, 2020

On Monday, the State Department, in coordination with other federal agencies, released a second review of President Donald Trump’s Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy (PLGHA), affirming its effectiveness in both protecting life and promoting global health.

On January 23, 2017, President Trump reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy which restricts foreign funds from going to organizations that perform or promote abortions. This unprecedented expansion, which is now known under the PLGHA name, expanded the requirements from only applying to family planning funds to now covering all global health funds totaling nearly $8.8 billion in American foreign aid.

The outrage from pro-abortion groups was prompt, as 130 groups sent a letter to President Trump immediately following the announcement, condemning this policy for increasing unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths. The attacks on this policy have also made regular appearances in Congress as pro-abortion members have sought to delegitimize the effort and paint it as harming United States global health goals. This February, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on women’s global health, and pro-abortion members used it as fodder to attack PLGHA. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) claimed that “This administration’s unprecedented expansions [were] implemented with no analysis of the potential impacts.” She further asserted that “mass confusion about the policy has led to a chilling effect causing organizations to unnecessarily change or eliminate vital health services.” The State Department has now issued two thorough reports showing that these allegations are far from the truth.

The most recent report from the State Department analyzing the implementation of the PLGHA policy reveals that so far, only eight out of the 1,340 prime grantees of global health funds have declined to agree to the terms of the policy, two of which were the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International—two of the largest global abortion groups. That means that 99 percent of all organizations directly receiving these global health funds have agreed not to promote or perform abortions. An additional 47 subgrantees also declined to accept the terms of the policy, but in most cases the prime partner organization directly receiving the U.S. global health funds was able to take on these activities or transition them to another organization. Not everything with the implementation was perfect, as 18 of the subgrantees did report delays in health care delivery of greater than three months. In these instances, USAID stepped in to help find new partner organizations or work to provide technical assistance. Also, following the completion of the first State Department report, USAID has taken substantial action to train grantees on the implementation of the policy by providing in-person trainings and electronic guidance materials. Contradicting what Congressional opponents have claimed, the report concluded: “When organizations declined the terms of PLGHA, the transitions to alternative health providers have been, for the most part, smooth.”

Abortion providers, whether domestic or abroad, act as if they have a right to receive public funds, and any time those funds are taken away, there will supposedly be immediate consequences to public health. Time after time, this has been proven false, and the latest State Department report is further evidence of that. The other trend confirmed in this report is that when the government restricts funds for abortion providers, other willing funders will always step in to keep abortion groups supported. The report noted that in Burkina Faso and Niger, private donors stepped in to fund organizations that did not comply with the PLGHA policy.

A similar situation happened when President Trump implemented the Protect Life Rule which prohibited Title X grantees from promoting abortion. Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers withdrew from the program, sacrificing over $50 million in federal funds only for it to be replaced by state revenues instead. These trends raise the debate over whether public programs should only seek to provide services in the most efficient way possible; or, should morals and ethics play a role in how programs are implemented and which organizations provide those programs. The thorough review of using taxpayer funds to promote women’s health through Title X domestically and international global health funds demonstrate that our government can do both.

President Trump and his administration have gone above and beyond any past president to implement government-wide policies that protect unborn life. The reports being released further confirm that the U.S. can have policies that seek to both protect unborn children and promote better health outcomes for women. As Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) boldly proclaimed in response to the Congressional attacks on PLGHA: “To win the future, America should be leading to affirm the dignity and value of both patients, mothers and children.”

FRC on the Hill (July 27-August 7)

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

August 7, 2020

Whether in the appropriations process or coronavirus relief discussions, issues of life, family, and religious freedom continued to be debated in Congress in recent days, and Family Research Council wrapped up a busy few weeks fighting for faith, family, and freedom in our nation’s capital. Here are the two big items from the past two weeks:

The House Continues its Spending Spree

The House of Representatives passed the second spending package (H.R. 7617) for fiscal year 2021. This package includes several measures that block some of the president’s pro-life and pro-family policies. Among other things, H.R. 7617 would:

  • Allow D.C. funds to be used for abortions;
  • Grant the marijuana industry banking access and prevent the federal government from enforcing federal law in states that have legalized recreational marijuana;
  • Force private schools participating in the D.C. voucher program (including faith-based schools) to abide by the same federal restrictions as public schools;
  • Cut private schools from COVID-19 relief funding;
  • Lock in Planned Parenthood as a Title X family planning grantee;
  • Eliminate funding for Sexual Risk Avoidance Education, a program that teaches children that avoiding sexual activity before marriage is the surest way to avoid its risks;
  • Stop efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services from working with faith-based adoption and foster care agencies that operate in accordance with their faith;
  • Stop efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that science and biology remain the cornerstone of health care, not gender ideology;
  • Gut Department of Defense policy regarding the service of individuals with gender dysphoria despite the policy’s basis in promoting military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion over social experimentation; and
  • Allow men who identify as women into battered women’s shelters.

With this package passed, only the spending bills for Homeland Security and the Legislative Branch remain outstanding in the House. However, the Senate has not begun working on their spending bills, and there are only 14 legislative days left before federal funding runs out on September 30. The appropriations process in the House has been nothing but partisan politics by liberals to advance their priorities and does not reflect a good faith effort to pass spending bills that will actually be signed into law.

Congress Negotiates Next Round of Coronavirus Relief

The Senate unveiled their long-awaited proposal for further medical and economic relief for Americans hurting from the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), which includes a wish list of liberal policy priorities, the Senate proposal (HEALS Act) seeks to spend money responsibly and tailor aid specifically to those most in need.

Among other things, the Heroes Act would:

  • Provide bonus pay for essential workers, which could include those working at abortion facilities;
  • Provide tax subsidies for health care plans that cover abortion;
  • Redefine sex in non-discrimination language to include sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • Create legal protections for banks who do business with the marijuana industry.

The HEALS Act, however:

  • Provides financial help without subsidizing abortion or health plans that cover abortion;
  • Puts most of its funding towards schools, virus testing, and the small business loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program;
  • Includes liability protections for nonprofits and churches so that they can reopen safely without fear of frivolous lawsuits;
  • Includes Emergency Education Freedom Grants, which would send money to states in the form of scholarships to be used for private schools and even homeschooling expenses.

Negotiations over the next round of coronavirus relief legislation are still ongoing and major disagreements between the two sides have threatened to stall any compromise solution. However, it is encouraging to see the Senate sticking up for life, family, and religious liberty.

Other Notable Items

  • Senator Josh Hawley has stated that he will only support Supreme Court nominees who are on the record against Roe v. Wade.
  • The CEOs of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook testified before the House Judiciary committee. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) directly called out big tech censorship of conservative voices and Amazon’s use of the SPLC hate groups list in the Amazon smile program.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the State Department budget, discussing religious freedom among other things.
  • Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced a bill to repeal the longstanding Helms Amendment, a bipartisan policy that bans taxpayer funding for abortion abroad.

We hope this is a helpful roundup of developments connected to faith, family, and freedom on Capitol Hill. Please stay tuned for our next update.

FRC’s Efforts on Capitol Hill (Week of July 20)

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Laura Lee Caum

July 28, 2020

FRC wrapped up another busy week fighting for faith, family, and freedom on Capitol Hill.

The House came together — and then fell apart

The House of Representatives returned from a two-week recess with a full schedule of legislative items. On Tuesday, the House passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes all of the major defense programs, with broad bipartisan support. Fortunately, unlike last year, this year’s bill did not include a new family planning program with pro-life concerns or language to reshape military standards to be gender-neutral. The Senate passed their version of the NDAA on Thursday, also with broad bipartisan support. The absence of progressive policy priorities allowed Democrats and Republicans to join together in support of this year’s NDAA.

While members resisted the temptation to insert partisan priorities in the NDAA, the same could not be said of the Democrats on the Appropriations committee. The House passed the first minibus appropriations package (H.R. 7608), which includes several major pro-life and pro-family concerns. Specifically, the State and Foreign Operations section of the bill included language to repeal President Trump’s Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, which bars funding for foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning. The bill would also provide direct funding for the World Health Organization, which actively promotes abortion and a radical sex education agenda abroad. Finally, the bill would weaken a longstanding pro-life amendment that bans funding for any organization or program that promotes coercive abortions. Despite President Trump’s threat to veto any spending bills that weaken or undermine current pro-life policies, House leadership has pushed through a spending bill full of anti-life measures.

FRC priorities attacked in committee hearings

One-third of pregnancies in trans men are unintended.” That statement from the co-founder of Minority Veterans of America is just one example of the radical liberal agenda that was on full display in House committee hearings this week.

Several values issues came up in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. First, Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) questioned what was included in the expansion of contraception access for veterans in H.R. 4281. The Director of Reproductive Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clarified that this would include abortifacients like the morning after pill. H.R. 3582, which would expand the scope of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to include LGBT-identifying veterans, was also introduced. Promoting progressive social policies in the VA has become a new tactic in the House as they seek to sneak in social experiments on abortion, marijuana, and LGBT rights into these federal programs.

Some members used the House Foreign Assistance Budget hearing to attack the president’s appointees at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). John Barsa, the Acting Administrator of USAID, who has actively fought against the global expansion of abortion throughout the coronavirus pandemic, was questioned by members for the various pro-life and pro-family appointees at USAID. The questions the members asked were not about the appointee’s experience or credentials for the role. Instead, they raised concerns only because the president’s appointees hold a worldview with which they disagree. These types of attacks are very similar to those leveled at key White House officials, like Russ Vought, as they made their way through the Senate confirmation process. This indirect assault against people who hold a biblical worldview is greatly concerning.

Although there was a fair share of anti-life and anti-family rhetoric on Capitol Hill this week, Christians shouldn’t be discouraged. Proverbs 21:1 reminds us that in God’s hand, “the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.” Remember, God is sovereign; nothing surprises Him or takes Him off guard. Moreover, there are actions you can take to protect the values of faith, family, and freedom. First, it is important that you pray. Scripture instructs us to pray for those who are in authority, which includes our leaders in government. Second, it is imperative that you vote and get involved in the political process. As God commanded the exiles in Babylon, we, too, should seek the welfare of our city by engaging in the sometimes messy world of politics. This is one of the practical ways we obey Jesus’ command to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31). Thus, when we are tempted to be discouraged by the rhetoric on Capitol Hill, let’s remember the words of Winston Churchill. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Laura Lee Caum is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

During the Pandemic, the Trump Administration Is Continuing to Protect Religious Freedom

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Jeremy Pilz

July 22, 2020

Yesterday, the Trump Administration announced further steps to protect religious freedom during the coronavirus pandemic. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the resolution of two recent complaints filed against hospitals for infringing on religious freedom.

in June 2020, OCR received a complaint from a woman named Susanna Marcus, alleging she had requested a visit from a priest for her critically injured husband, Sidney Marcus. However, Prince George’s Hospital Center of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), the hospital where Sidney Marcus was admitted, denied the request. In late May 2020, Susanna and Sidney Marcus were involved in major car accident. Due to the nature of Sidney’s injuries, the couple was separated, and Sydney was placed in the intensive care unit. As a result of Sidney’s continued decline in health, Susanna requested a visit from a local priest for prayer at the hospital. The priest, however, was turned away by the hospital, based on a visitor exclusion policy adopted in response to COVID-19, despite being willing to wear any necessary personal protective equipment. In partnership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), OCR provided technical assistance to the hospital based on federal guidance which provides that “facilities must ensure patients have adequate and lawful access to chaplains or clergy.” Following this action by OCR, Prince George’s Hospital Center came into compliance with the federal guidance and granted Sidney Marcus’s request to freely exercise his religion by allowing the Catholic priest to visit and administer the sacraments of Holy Communion and Anointing of the Sick to him.

This is significant because it concerns the ability of clergy to continue to operate and function during the coronavirus, something the administration made sure was included in nationwide guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump should be commended for ensuring clergy and pastors can continue to operate in this way and serve their communities during the coronavirus.

That same month, OCR also received a complaint from a medical student who was participating in rotations at the Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) in New York City. As a part of their response to COVID-19, SIUH temporarily suspended medical student rotations at the hospital. To return to rotation, SIUH required students to wear N95 respirator masks while assisting patients. As a result, SIUH informed one student that he would need to shave his beard if he wanted to return to his rotation. In accordance with the tenets of his religion, this student has not shaved his beard. HHS then stepped in to provided technical assistance to the hospital, and ultimately, they granted the student an accommodation to wear alternative protective equipment in the hospital so that he would not have to shave his beard.

These actions by the Trump administration may seem like small regulatory resolutions, but what they show is a consistent and concerted effort by this administration to protect religious freedom for all Americans. Everyone’s ability to practice their faith must be protected, and the administration is accomplishing this in concrete ways with actions like what HHS did yesterday. This also demonstrates that in times of crisis like the one our country is facing now, this administration will not protect one civil liberty at the expense of another. From the onset of the pandemic, HHS and the Department of Justice have been diligent to enforce laws protecting everything from disability rights to the right churches have to freely worship. No matter the situation our country faces, the Office of Civil Rights at HHS is on duty, protecting the guard rails of civil rights like religious freedom.

If you have a been discriminated against by a healthcare provider or government agency for your religious beliefs, please visit hhs.gov/ocr to file a complaint.

Connor Semelsberger, MPP is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Jeremy Pilz is a Policy and Government Affairs intern focusing on federal legislative affairs, with a concentration on pro-life issues.

The Media Attacks Churches for Getting PPP Loans, But Ignores Planned Parenthood

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Samantha Stahl

July 15, 2020

As reports began trickling in last week about which organizations received coronavirus relief funds, it became known that Planned Parenthood received at least $150 million in funds, and several businesses connected to Members of Congress also received funds. Despite this controversy over which organizations received relief funds, the media has singled out the church as being the most egregious recipient of them all.

The AP recently reported that the Roman Catholic Church lobbied the Trump administration to receive $1.4 billion in coronavirus relief funds and Reuters revealed that several evangelical churches with ties to the Trump administration also received funds. With targeted attacks on faith-based organizations, the media missed several marks about how the program operates and further demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of how religious institutions operate. 

The Media Ignores the Details

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), first passed in the CARES Act, is designed to grant forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofit organizations specifically to keep employees on their employers’ payroll during the coronavirus pandemic. These loans are administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), and because of that it has led to confusion that nonprofits including churches are not eligible. However, the legislation explicitly allows nonprofit organizations to be eligible for the program. The text of the legislation was not initially clear on whether religious nonprofits were eligible or not, so at the request of several Members of Congress, the SBA issued an FAQ document clearly stating that faith-based entities can receive PPP funds.

The program is also very clear on how the funds must be used for forgiveness eligibility. The funds must be used on payroll, mortgage payments, rent, or utilities to qualify for forgiveness; otherwise the funding acts as a normal loan complete with interest and other obligations. This ensures that the funds are directly used to help employees from being furloughed, and that funds are not used on expressly religious activities. Furthermore, this program is open to all faith-based entities regardless of religious affiliation. It does not provide special treatment for Christian or Jewish organizations; even the stridently atheist advocacy group Freedom From Religion Foundation received a PPP loan. This fact alone should help alleviate concerns that the government is somehow violating the establishment clause of the Constitution by unfairly favoring specific churches and religious groups.

The Unique Structure of Churches

However, the main point of contention comes with the affiliation rule that Congress included in the CARES Act. This rule was included so that small businesses or nonprofits that have the same ownership, management, finances, or identity of a larger organization will have their total employees counted together to exclude small organizations that may already have the necessary financial help from a larger umbrella organization. This is the provision which gave the SBA the authority to exclude Planned Parenthood from receiving PPP loans, yet it was not enforced, which lead Planned Parenthood to be given $150 million in funds. It’s also the same provision which some have argued should exclude churches which are affiliates of a larger entity like the Catholic Church.

However, this concern reveals a basic misunderstanding of the structure of religious organizations and has unfortunately led to attacks on churches for supposedly violating this rule. For the most part, churches affiliated with larger entities like the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church operate independently. They raise their own money, take out their own loans, pay their own utility costs, and hire and manage their own staff. In many respects, these churches operate as independent organizations to best serve their local community, resembling the operations of a small business. For example, within the Southern Baptist Convention—the largest Protestant denomination in America—each church is considered autonomous. This is a basic tenet of Baptist ecclesiology; churches can give a percentage of their undesignated receipts to their state convention to support missions and ministries through the Cooperate Program if they choose to, but are not punished or removed from the convention if they do not.

These considerations show that the media’s narrative on churches and the PPP program is not accurate, especially when it comes to churches that are connected to larger affiliate organizations for specifically religious reasons like directing religious teachings or assigning pastors to minister to specific churches. The SBA recognized this in their guidance for faith-based organizations applying for coronavirus relief funds. In fact, the SBA FAQs clearly applies the First Amendment to the program, noting:

If the connection between your organization and another entity that would constitute an affiliation is based on a religious teaching or belief or is otherwise a part of the exercise of religion, your organization qualifies for an exemption from the affiliation rules. For example, if your faith-based organization affiliates with another organization because of your organization’s religious beliefs about church authority or internal constitution, or because the legal, financial, or other structural relationships between your organization and other organizations reflect an expression of such beliefs, your organization would qualify for the exemption.

While it may seem like Planned Parenthood and large religious affiliate organizations like a Catholic diocese have a similar structure and both should be ineligible for PPP loans, only these faith-based institutions are eligible for the religious exemption that is consistent with constitutional and statutory religious freedom protections.

Religion as an Important Public Good

Churches have employees they must continue to pay during the pandemic just like any other for-profit business. In addition to taking care of their workers, churches must also pay interest on mortgages or rent for the space they use as well as utilities to keep the lights on. These requirements have been met by the churches that have lawfully been granted a PPP loan.

Moreover, it is important to realize that churches also play an essential role in ministering to people’s needs. With the shutdown of churches due to COVID-19, many of these mercy ministers have been affected. Outside of the government, the Catholic Church supplies a huge portion of the social services in America, serving millions of people who are suffering now more than ever. In response to the targeted reporting on churches receiving PPP loans, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called the loans an “essential lifeline” for employees and their families. The PPP loans play an important part in the ability of churches to continue their support of their brothers and sisters in Christ, especially during this time of financial instability.

While it is understandable to raise concerns about certain organizations improperly applying for a PPP loan, media hit pieces like the AP article are nothing more than attacks on people of faith and religious organizations. Tragically, lies and falsehoods have a price; in the last few days as the mainstream media has singled out faith-based organizations in their reporting, religious statues have been vandalized and churches have been burned.   

Not only are attacks on churches lawfully applying for aid appalling, the comparative lack of media attention to the fact that Planned Parenthood improperly applied for the PPP loan is astounding. Planned Parenthood is not even remotely close to a small employer since its number of employees dwarf the 500-employee limit for eligibility for the PPP loan, yet they applied for and received millions of dollars in aid while also continuing to lobby for further financial assistance in future coronavirus relief legislation.

This whole situation makes it clear that the media and ruling elites of our country find churches and religious organizations, which often labor quietly for the common good for all of society, more abhorrent than abortion facilities designed specifically to end the lives of innocent human beings. Now is the time for the church and people of faith to stand for what is good and right and push back against a worldview which values the destruction of human life over the salvation of souls. 

Connor Semelsberger is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Samantha Stahl is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

Charity: Who Does It Best?

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Jeremy Pilz

July 7, 2020

One of the most well-known passages in the Bible is Matthew 25 where Jesus teaches his followers about charity. In this text, Jesus distinguishes between “sheep” and “goats.” On one hand are the sheep who are commended for selflessly serving those in need while on the other hand are the goats, those who are condemned for not caring for the naked, thirsty, or hungry. In a shocking statement, Jesus tells his disciples that how one treats the needy reflects their love for him.

Taking Jesus’ admonitions to heart, the Christian church has historically been on the front lines of performing charitable acts. However, recently the government continues to encroach on this space, expanding its role in providing a social safety net consisting of mostly large, impersonal programs. But instead of overtaking the important role of the church when it comes to practicing charity, the government should work to supplement and not supplant this vital calling of charitable organizations. 

Within the pages of the Bible, one can see many other references to the practice of charity. In fact, the word “charity” that is found in the Bible text is a translation of the Greek word “agape,” also meaning “love.” 1 Corinthians 13 suggests that charity is love when Paul writes: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” The direct command to love and be charitable can be found in Matthew 22:39 when Jesus states that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Practicing charity by loving our neighbor is not only the responsibility of individual Christians, but of the church as a whole. Recently, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) echoed these thoughts on the Senate floor by stating that “as religious believers we know that serving our fellow citizens, of whatever their religious faith…aiding them, working for them, is one of the signature ways that we show a love of neighbor.”

This calling from Scripture has also been voiced by Christian leaders on Capitol Hill. Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) recently spoke about how non-profit organizations are a crucial part of our society during a Joint Economic Committee hearing on charitable giving. Churches and non-profits are the initial components of our social safety nets. Since churches and non-profits are often on the front lines of serving needy communities, they must take the lead when it comes to formulating public policy to address many of our nation’s social ills.

So why should the government allow the faith-based community and nonprofit sector to take the lead in this area?

First, the church and other non-profits have already proven that they can make significant contributions to society. Using a national survey of religious congregations in the United States, Duke Divinity School professor Mark Chaves found that 83 percent of congregations have some sort of program to help needy people in their communities. Religious organizations also provide approximately 35 percent of the country’s volunteer hours. Furthermore, Catholic nonprofits provide between 17 and 34 percent of all private social services, and, according to recent research by Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, religious institutions contribute $1.2 trillion to society and the United States economy every year, more than the top 10 tech companies’ contributions combined.

Even during the current coronavirus pandemic, the church and non-profits have stepped up. As Rev. Steve Woolley recently explained, “The important work of being Christ in the community, of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and healing the spiritually broken has continued through alternate pathways. Congregations have been able to funnel resources and time toward organizations like the Christian Aid Center, Homeless Alliance, Catholic Charities, United Way and others to see that needs continue to be met as best as can be done under the circumstances.”

Second, churches and non-profits can provide more well-rounded assistance for the people of the United States than the government at all levels. Churches and non-profits have the ability and means to provide more personal, one-on-one social services. As Pastor Gilford T. Monrose noted, “Each church can provide effective ministries and outreach services…” [filling] “a void only the church can.” Unlike many government programs that seem to just throw money at individuals or families, churches and non-profits invest physically, emotionally, and often spiritually in the lives of the people they minister to.

The government needs to supplement the charity work of churches and other non-profits, not supplant them. This is because of the church’s historic track record, the well-rounded services they provide, and out of respect for the call and command that Christians in particular have to practice charity. In the words of social welfare policy expert Michael Tanner, “We do have a responsibility to help the poor and those in need. That means taking care of them yourself—giving money yourself, giving your time, your efforts, not someone else’s.”

Connor Semelsberger, MPP is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Jeremy Pilz is a Policy & Government Affairs intern at Family Research Council.

Families and Charitable Organizations: The Foundation of American Society

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

June 17, 2020

This piece was originally published at NRB.org.

Churches and other charitable organizations have been on the front lines of the coronavirus response. A few examples are Samaritan’s Purse building a field hospital in New York City’s Central Park and churches hosting food drives and conducting coronavirus testing. One Alabama church tested 1,000 people in two days! Despite the active role these nonprofits have taken in meeting the health and economic needs of our country, they still rely on donations—at a time when many Americans face financial hardship due to job loss, limited working hours, or increased medical costs. Such hardships may lead to a decline in charitable donations. Thankfully, some leaders on Capitol Hill are championing the important role churches and charitable organizations play in helping local communities.

One way the tax code helps charitable organizations is through the charitable deduction. However when the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act simplified and raised the standard deduction to $12,000, it caused many tax filers to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing their charitable contributions. Realizing this problem in the tax code, Congress recently passed the CARES Act, which allows charitable contributions up to $300 to be deducted above and beyond the standard deduction on annual tax returns. This new policy is a great first step in promoting charitable giving during the pandemic. But congressional leaders believe there is much more to be done.

Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) has been the most vocal voice advocating for direct changes to the tax law to support both families and nonprofits. He summed this need up perfectly in a Joint Economic Committee hearing on charitable giving. “We have three safety nets in America. The family is the first safety net. Nonprofits are our second safety net and government is our third…The first two are essential and if the family collapses, nonprofits struggle to keep up and governments struggle to keep up.”

In May, Senator Lankford and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) co-authored a letter to Senate leaders, advocating for nonprofits, charities, and houses of worship in any future coronavirus relief bills. One of the specific proposals Lankford and King offered is raising the $300 charitable deduction limit in the CARES Act to one-third of the standard deduction. This would equate to $4,000 for individuals and $8,000 for married couples. Representative Mark Walker (R-N.C.) has taken a similar approach in the House of Representatives. His bill, the Coronavirus Help and Response Initiative Through the Year 2022 (CHARITY) Act, would expand the charitable deduction to one-third of the standard deduction until 2022.

Families and churches are the foundation of our society. They are, therefore, the societal institutions best-equipped to provide stability when America faces many health and safety challenges. When families and churches struggle, so does the rest of America. That is why the government needs to recognize and support these institutions and charitable organizations. As Sen. Lankford said, “it’s beneficial for us in our official policy and what we choose to do in the tax code to be able to create a tax code that is encouraging to families and that is encouraging to nonprofits.

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