Biden pick for health secretary alarms religious liberty advocates

December 8th, 2020 / By: Scott Barkley | Baptist Press / comments

Biden pick for health secretary alarms religious liberty advocates

WASHINGTON — Southern Baptists joined other religious liberty advocates in voicing opposition to President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of Health and Human Services, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

“Mr. Becerra has a consistent track record of opposing religious liberty and cultural values emerging from religious convictions,” said Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary in California. “He will, no doubt, demonstrate his convictions and use his position to further those positions if his cabinet appointment is approved.

“The country would be better served by someone less antagonistic to faith communities.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., echoed those sentiments in the Monday (Dec. 7) edition of his podcast The Briefing.

“This is really big. It’s of enormous concern. It’s hard to imagine anyone that will be more dangerous in the position as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services than Xavier Becerra,” Mohler said.

Biden’s pick of Becerra was a surprise to many in the medical community, according to the New York Times. Those observers expected – and by many counts would have preferred – someone with more medical or public health experience when the CDC is reporting more than 281,000 deaths due to COVID-19 and the country is preparing for a mass vaccination effort.

“I expect that, as he undergoes the process of the Senate’s constitutional duty to advise and consent, senators will ask Xavier Becerra about his troubling hostility to pregnancy resource centers and other faith-based institutions during his tenure as California attorney general, and whether such actions would characterize his potential leadership at HHS,” said Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore.

“The country desperately needs an HHS Department that can help unify and mobilize, not one that will further divide us. The new HHS secretary, a position that is crucially important but never more so than during a global pandemic, should have the coronavirus as enemy number one, not Americans with differing religious convictions. I look forward to hearing these questions answered in the days ahead.”

The path forward for Senate approval of Biden’s cabinet nominees is murky. Georgia’s runoff elections slated for Jan. 5 will determine the last two seats in the Senate. Currently, Republicans hold a 50-48 advantage. Should Democrats win those last two seats, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will cast the deciding vote, effectively giving Democrats the majority.

Today was the last chance for Georgians to register to vote in that run-off election.

In 2018, the ERLC joined other groups in a Supreme Court case involving pro-life pregnancy centers versus the state of California, of which at the time Becerra served as attorney general. A California law had sought to require those pregnancy centers to publicize abortion services nearby for clients or face fines as much as $1,000 a day.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with the pregnancy centers in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. Nevertheless, Mohler characterized the California attorney general’s current rise to a national position as potentially catastrophic for conservative groups and causes.

“It would be hard to create, even in imagination, a nominee for this kind of position who would be of deeper concern, for anyone who’s pro-life or pro-marriage or pro-religious liberty, than Xavier Becerra.” Mohler said on his podcast. “He has turned his office as attorney general of California into an industrial machine and pushing the agenda of Planned Parenthood and the culture of death through the abortion rights movement.

“Xavier Becerra is an enthusiastic supporter of the Equality Act that would be a steam roller at the expense of religious liberty and the furtherance of the LGBTQ revolution. Back earlier this year, he indicated that if Roe v. Wade were to be reversed by the Supreme Court, as attorney general of California, he would not even prosecute any cases that would then be criminalized because of his own support for abortion rights. He would place himself even over against the law.”

Earlier this year, under the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services put a stop to Becerra and the state of California’s practice of compelling all health insurance plans and issuers – even churches – to provide abortion coverage.

More recently, California churches have claimed heavy-handed impositions on their right to gather in person under COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions put in place by Gov. Gavin Newsom and enforced by Becerra. Some churches also say those restrictions have been applied unevenly among houses of worship and other similarly-attended secular events and businesses.

Other conservative and pro-life leaders also voiced their opposition to the choice.

“Far from ‘uniting’ the country, Biden has proven yet again he is an extremist on abortion,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. “Becerra is aggressively pro-abortion and a foe of free speech.”

“W/@JoeBiden’s pick of @AGBecerra for HHS Secretary, we are seeing him make good on his promise to become the most radically pro-abortion president in history,” tweeted Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life. “Becerra has a long and hostile record towards pro-life Americans including the persecution of those who exposed Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in baby body parts. So much for unity.”

Becerra’s predecessor, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, led in the prosecution of journalist David Daleiden for a series of videos claiming Planned Parenthood profited from the trade of fetal tissue from abortions. In January of 2019 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded the videos were authentic. However, a civil jury trial later that year in federal court said Daleiden and others were guilty of fraud, breach of contract, unlawful recording of conversations, civil conspiracy and violation of federal anti-trafficking laws and awarded a $2.2 million decision to Planned Parenthood and others.

Daleiden, who is appealing that decision, contested that he acted in the role of an undercover journalist and insisted Planned Parenthood employees he recorded had no expectation of privacy. Earlier this year, he sued Harris and Becerra in a case claiming they violated his civil rights through those cases.