TALLAHASSEE (FBW)—As lawmakers met the last week of September in anticipation of the 2014 legislative session, a key leader urged Florida Baptists of the need to keep a close eye on all proposed legislation in order to insure religious freedom remains intact.
“We are seeing a drip by drip erosion of religious liberty rights in very small ways every day,” said Bill Bunkley, president of Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We must constantly be vigilant about defending it before we wake up one day and find that our rights have been collectively eroded away.”
Bunkley identified religious freedom as a top concern for the 2013 legislative session along with other issues including Common Core Educational Standards, gambling expansion, homosexual “rights,” and abortion.
►As a national “one size fits all” curriculum, known as Common Core Educational Standards is making its way from the federal government to the states, Bunkley said it is problematic in areas of how it presents creation and evolutionary science, “politically correct” views of sexual morality, and the redefinition of marriage. Freedom of religious consciousness protections for homeschooled students and Christian schools also are areas to watch, Bunkley said, as is the issue of local control.
►Florida Baptist pastors from around the state should lead delegations from churches to four regional public hearings on gambling that will take place in Lakeland, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and the Panhandle, Bunkley said, predicting 2014 will be an “intensive session” with mega casinos proposed. Since the Spectrum Gaming Group paid $400,000 to advise the legislature on whether gambling is good or bad for Florida, or on whether Florida “needs more of it,” Bunkley said there is a “conflict of interest” at play as the organization lists major gaming operators as clients.
►In light of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on homosexual marriage, Bunkley anticipates the “liberal wing” of the legislature will attempt to move bills calling for the appeal of the Florida Marriage Amendment and provide domestic partnerships as long as the marriage amendment is part of the Florida Constitution. Hearings, he anticipates, will force pro-family organization to defend biblical marriage, which will in turn “generative negative liberal press.” The mainstream media, Bunkley predicts, will characterize conservatives as “homophobic and bigoted” as part of “an ongoing public relations effort to discredit our position before the general public.”
►Following on the heels of a high-profile case in federal court in which a Tampa man, John A. Welden (the son of a fertility doctor), has been accused by his girlfriend of tricking her into taking a drug which caused her to have a miscarriage—Remee Lee is expected to testify before the legislature in support of “The Victims of Unborn Violence Act.” Lee, who had named her unborn child “Memphis,” will support abortion legislation similar to that of 2004 federal legislation of the same name which criminalizes the injury or death of an unborn child, as the result of violence, at any stage of development in the women.
Bunkley offered the following about ways Florida Baptists can effect change and stay informed about issues that matter.
►Get to know and engage local state senators and member of the house by name
►Get to know and pray for legislators family members by name and pray for them
►Invite legislators to local church functions
►Send a delegation from the church to Tallahassee to visit the capitol and local legislators (incude homeschool children)
►Write emails and letters and make calls to legislators
Finally, in an effort to stay informed, Florida Baptists can enroll to receive legislative updates from the Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Noting the organization’s website and email system is currently being updated, Bunkley said those interested can forward email addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Another great source is the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com),” Bunkley said, noting also the website “Sayfienews.com” which tracks the states’ major political and legislative stories. He also recommended starting an issues committee at the local church level to track important legislation.
Bunkley, in Tallahassee for 19 years monitoring legislation on behalf of Florida Baptists, said he greatly appreciates the prayers and gifts from local churches and individuals. With a new organizational structure, he said, very limited funding continues to come as a result of the Cooperative Program as a ministry of the Florida Baptist State Convention. The larger portion, however, is dependent on outside sources and the needs are deep in preparation for the new legislative year.
“We express our deepest thanks to those churches and others who are currently standing with us with their support,” he said.
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