Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., speaks to and amendment designed to provide the same level of treatment for churches and other religious bodies as secular entities regarding restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. SPECIAL/Baptist Press
WASHINGTON (BP) – The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both approved Friday (Feb. 5) a budget resolution that paves the way for enactment of President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
The measure’s early morning passage in the Senate – decided 51-50 by the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris in a chamber equally divided between Democrats and Republicans – followed what is known as a “vote-a-rama” on 40 proposed amendments or motions. Among the amendments considered were proposals regarding abortion and religious freedom favored by many Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 219-209 later Friday for the resolution, setting the stage for its committees to begin writing the actual relief and stimulus legislation.
During the overnight “vote-a-rama,” the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., that requires a baby that survives an abortion or attempted abortion to receive the same degree of care offered any other child born alive at the same point in gestation. The roll call was 52-48 for Sasse’s amendment, but it required 60 votes.
Senators, however, approved an amendment by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., designed to provide the same level of treatment for churches and other religious bodies as secular entities regarding restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote was 51-49 in a roll call requiring only a majority for passage.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is grateful to Sasse and Lankford “for keeping issues regarding the sanctity of human life and religious freedom front of mind and in the conversation,” said Travis Wussow, the entity’s general counsel and vice president for public policy.
“We will continue to advocate for the bipartisan passage of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in this Congress,” Wussow said. “And as the pandemic continues, we will continue to advocate that the religious freedom rights of churches and ministries be upheld and respected. These policies are as common sense as they are critically needed.”
Sasse’s amendment was based on his Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which he first introduced in 2015. Democratic Sens. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined all the Republicans in voting for the amendment.
“There’s a lot of complicated debates in this chamber, but this isn’t actually one of them,” Sasse told the Senate before the vote. “Here’s a chance for 100 Senators to come together and support every baby. Every baby deserves a fighting chance.”
Lankford’s amendment addressed a plight churches and other religious bodies have experienced in some cities and states during the pandemic. Government officials have sometimes imposed limitations on religious gatherings that they have not on such businesses as restaurants and retail stores. Manchin was the lone Democrat to support the proposal.
“Unequal treatment is wrong, especially when that treatment violates our Constitutional protections,” Lankford said in a written statement. “This shouldn’t be controversial. We can have the same rules for everyone – no matter if you are praying in a church, mosque or synagogue or shopping in a store.”
A complete version of this post appeared in the Baptist Press.