Under normal circumstances, the last week of December provides an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the last 12 months and a time to dream about the possibilities ahead in the new year. But 2020 was challenging for most Americans, and many likely want to turn the page as quickly as possible. However, before ringing in 2021, it is worth reflecting on some of the highlights from this unique year.
In a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic which brought unprecedented changes into our lives, it is easy to forget what else took place. But there were other significant stories from this past year that deserve our reflection. From the perspective of two Christians working in public policy in our nation's capital, here are 10 encouraging stories that caught our attention from 2020.
1. Churches Rise to the Challenge
When the coronavirus upended the rhythms of life that most of us had taken for granted, people had to change their modus operandi for almost everything. This included churches across the country that were forced to adapt quickly to how they served their congregations and communities. For example, when they were no longer able to gather, many churches began using live-streaming technology such as Zoom, YouTube live, and other streaming platforms to ensure members could continue receiving weekly encouragement from God's Word. Some churches held "Drive-In" services where members could stay in their cars and listen to messages delivered by their pastor from a small stage (or even a forklift!) near the front of the parking lot. Many churches looked outward, seeking ways to serve their communities in tangible ways despite limitations on public meetings. Some churches delivered meals to nurses and doctors serving on the front lines; others provided meals and opportunities for people in the community to pray while others turned their facilities into virus testing sites. In an otherwise turbulent year, the faithfulness of churches in 2020 was a bright light.
2. Confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett
In September, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court. She accepted the nomination and sat courageously through an intense confirmation hearing where she was drilled and questioned by senators. Just two weeks before Election Day, Barrett was confirmed and became the youngest of only four women ever to serve on the Supreme Court. Barrett is also the first mother of school-age children to serve on the nation's highest court. Throughout the confirmation process, Barrett faced opposition to her faith, physical appearance, and judicial philosophy. But as Tony Perkins noted, she showed "calm, poise, and decency" as she navigated the process. Since joining the Court, Barrett has already made an impression, casting the deciding vote in a major religious liberty case involving churches facing unfair restrictions and discrimination.
3. After Difficult Year, Religious Liberty Wins in Court
The coronavirus pandemic affected nearly every aspect of American life in 2020 including school, work, and even church. While many elected leaders tried to navigate the public health challenges of the virus and protect religious freedom, overzealous authorities took advantage of the situation by unfairly discriminating against churches. Although 99 percent of churches ceased in-person gatherings (many before they were even required to), as the pandemic wore on, it became apparent that some officials were holding churches to unfair standards (such as arbitrary attendance caps that businesses, casinos, and other organizations were not required to follow). This prompted several lawsuits. Unfortunately, several of these early lawsuits went against churches (such as Calvary Chapel v. Steve Sisolak), however, the Supreme Court stepped in this fall and issued multiple favorable rulings for churches. This is a welcome sign that courts are safeguarding religious freedom.
4. Trump Administration Accomplishments
Building on accomplishments from the previous three years, the Trump administration advanced a number of policies to protect life and religious liberty in 2020. For example, on January 16, the Departments of Justice and Education issued new guidance for prayer in schools, ensuring that the First Amendment rights of students are protected. Similarly, in September, the DOE published a rule to make sure First Amendment rights are protected on college campuses.
In January, the Department of Health and Human Services approved a family planning waiver for Texas to implement a state-run Medicaid program that excludes abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. This makes Texas the first state to receive Medicaid funding for a family planning program that does not include abortion providers.
On February 5, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance. The Alliance will unite government leaders from like-minded nations to strategize ways to promote religious freedom and protect religious minorities around the world.
On June 24, President Trump issued an executive order to strengthen America's foster care and adoption system. Among other things, this action seeks to increase partnerships with faith-based organizations to care for children and preserve families.
For a more comprehensive overview of the Trump administration accomplishments (2017-2020) see this list.
5. Major Supreme Court Cases (Good and Bad)
In 2020, the Supreme Court issued several decisions affecting faith, family, and freedom. In one, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court ruled in favor of religious schools, finding provisions excluding religious schools solely because they are religious violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. This ruling was a major win for religious liberty. Additionally, although several churches lost religious freedom cases in court this summer, last month, the Supreme Court, in Roman Catholic Diocese v. Cuomo, ruled that New York's governor could not unfairly discriminate against churches. Since then the tide seems to have turned in favor of protecting the religious freedom of churches.
Unfortunately, not all the Supreme Court rulings were positive this year. In June Medical Services v. Russo, the Court struck down a pro-life law that required doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital before performing abortions. Further, in June, a 6-3 majority ruled that employment discrimination "on the basis of sex"-- prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be understood to include actions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. By reinterpreting the statute in this way, the Court essentially rewrote civil rights law.
6. Pro-Life Lawmakers Make Historic Gains in Congress
Decades from now, the 2020 election will be remembered as one of the most unpredictable elections in American history. And while many conservatives were disappointed in the outcome of the presidential election, there were historic victories by pro-life candidates across the country. In fact, 89 percent of candidates backed by FRC Action (104 out of 117) won their races. Ninety-eight of 100 incumbents won their races, including all 74 "True Blue" candidates who ran for reelection ("True Blue" is the designation given to legislators who receive 100 percent on FRC Action's scorecard).
Another noteworthy achievement was the 18 pro-life women who won seats in the House of Representatives. Ten of these women flipped seats formerly held by pro-abortion Democrats. The 117th Congress will have a record 29 pro-life women in the House. Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) continues to refuse even a vote on the Born-Alive Survivor's Protection Act (a bill that would provide protection to babies who survive a failed abortion), the new pro-life members will continue to fight for pro-life laws that protect women and babies.
7. Launch of Worldview Resources
According to recent research by George Barna, only seven percent of Americans have a biblical worldview. This means that most of our friends and neighbors--as well as many in our churches--are not thinking about today's major issues from a perspective rooted in God's Word. To address this need, FRC launched FRC.org/Worldview, a new worldview resources page in 2020. This page includes FRC's "Biblical Worldview Series" which covers the topics of life, religious liberty, human sexuality, and political engagement. There are now summary versions and prayer guides for each publication; most of the publications are in Spanish as well. Looking forward to 2021, FRC will continue producing resources to equip Christians to faithfully engage the culture from a biblical worldview.
8. FRC Pro-Life Map Resource
In 2020, Family Research Council released a new resource illustrating the progress in states on key pro-life laws. This resource helps inform lawmakers and citizens of the various pro-life bills in their states, in order that communities can stand together in the fight against abortion. The maps feature summaries of bills dealing with born-alive protections, late-term abortions, fetal dignity, and defunding abortion providers.
Since the release of these maps, we have already seen progress in some states. For example, this summer, Nebraska passed a law that banned dismemberment abortions. Remarkably there was a strong concurrence among lawmakers and the final vote came out to 33-8. This demonstrates that the majority took a strong stand to prohibit this brutal form of abortion. By passing this bill, Nebraska joins 11 other states who have also banned dismemberment abortions, which is limiting the number of abortions that occur pass the second trimester. Additionally, West Virginia passed a "Born-Alive" law which shifted the law from "no protections" to "strong protections" on FRC's pro-life map.
9. A Win for International Religious Liberty
Christians and those of other faiths across the world have faced grave hardships this year as the challenges to religious freedom continue to mount. In China, all religious beliefs are tightly restricted by the government, but this year Uyghur Muslims experienced some of the most extreme persecution from the Chinese Communist Party. This fall, FRC supported an effective bill to address one major aspect of the problem--the widespread use of Uyghur forced labor. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act requires companies that produce goods in Xinjiang, China and import them to the United States to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the goods are not made with forced labor. This bipartisan bill passed the House of Representatives in September. Earlier this year, FRC hosted one young Uyghur woman who shared her story, illustrating just how important it is to speak up for the persecuted in China, and around the world.
10. Honoring Our Nation's Heritage Through Monuments
When rioters took to the streets this summer, many monuments representing historical figures were vandalized, defaced, and destroyed. While monuments honoring the Confederacy were the initial targets, memorials honoring abolitionists, Union generals, and black soldiers were also razed.
President Trump was determined to preserve the history of our nation by protecting these monuments and memorials. He called on the National Guard to protect the monuments in the nation's capital (including the Freedman's Memorial honoring Abraham Lincoln) which have thankfully stood to see another day. The story of our nation's values and history are engraved in many of these monuments and memorials. Rather than capitulate to the worst impulses of cancel culture, we should continue to strive toward more fully realizing our founding ideals. For a more in-depth look at D.C.'s monuments, check-out FRC's summer blog series that focuses on the spiritual heritage depicted in many of these memorials.