Even before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted day care services, policymakers worried about the many American workers who lack access to paid family leave. Congress has debated several bills on the topic in the past few years and President Donald Trump expressed his support for one of the proposals in his 2020 State of the Union address.
In March, Congress temporarily expanded access to paid leave through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Some lawmakers called on their colleagues to embrace more permanent options, noting that parents have struggled to balance their home and work responsibilities since long before the coronavirus struck.
“While the end to the current COVID-19 crisis is still months away, it’s clear that it too calls for bold legislation: the establishment of America’s first universal paid medical and family leave policy,” wrote Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, for Time in April.
Among those who support this call for a comprehensive paid leave bill are many people of faith. In recent years, many religious denominations and advocacy groups have issued calls to increase access to family leave, arguing that both work and child rearing are holy pursuits.
However, sometimes the same faith groups asking for policy changes don’t offer paid family leave or flexible work arrangements to their own employees. Houses of worship, like many small businesses, can have difficulty paying a new parent on leave and their temporary replacement at the same time.
In this edition of ReligionLink, you’ll learn more about religion’s role in the paid family leave debate and the people who can help you cover the issue in the future.
- Read “Emergency paid leave helps some families, leaves others adrift” from The New York Times on May 18, 2020.
- Read “Paid parental leave for fed workers could spur wider changes” from The Associated Press on Dec. 16, 2019.
- Read “Paid family leave is a pro-life issue that can unite Republicans and Democrats” from Religion News Service on Aug. 14, 2019.
- Read “Why people of faith are speaking up about paid family leave” from the Deseret News on Aug. 8, 2018.
- Read “Christians are calling for better family leave policies. That wasn’t always the case” from Vox on July 19, 2018.
- Read “How Christians can take the lead with paid family leave” from Christianity Today on July 17, 2018.
- Read “Time to Flourish: Protecting families’ time for work and care” from The Center for Public Justice in July 2018.
- Read “In the paid family leave debate, pro-life, pro-family groups’ own policies are all over the map” from The Washington Post on Nov. 30, 2015.
- Read “The paradox of a pro-life church without paid parental leave” from the National Catholic Reporter on July 23, 2015.
- The Congressional Research Service released an updated version of its guide to paid family and medical leave in the United States on Feb. 19, 2020.
- The Bipartisan Policy Center published a guide to state-level paid family leave laws in November 2019. Eight states and the District of Columbia have passed leave policies, but the programs are only active in four states so far.
- The 2019 American Family Survey, released in September 2019, includes an in-depth look at Americans’ views on family leave policies.
- A Pew Research Center survey, “Americans widely support paid family and medical leave, but differ over specific policies,” released March 23, 2017, explores who people think should be covered by leave policies and who they say should cover the costs.
The Rev. Devon Anderson is rector of Trinity Excelsior Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minnesota. She serves as chairwoman of an Episcopal Church task force on paid family leave.
Rachel Anderson is a resident fellow with the Center for Public Justice, where she leads the Families Valued project. She has authored or co-authored numerous reports on family leave policies and argues that paid leave should be seen as a religious issue.
Katelyn Beaty is a Christian editor and writer covering topics such as work, culture and politics. She is the author of A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home and the World. Arrange an interview through the contact form on her website.
Charlie Camosy is an associate professor of theology at Fordham University. He writes regularly on abortion rights, medically assisted suicide and other political issues, including paid family leave.
Maggie Cordish is a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, where she focuses on issues related to early childhood and family leave. She previously served as a family and child care policy adviser in the White House Office of Economic Initiatives and worked with Ivanka Trump on paid family leave. Arrange an interview by filling out the interview request form on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s website.
Justin Giboney is an attorney, political strategist and co-founder of the And Campaign, an organization that aims to increase and improve Christian political engagement. The And Campaign’s statement on the 2020 presidential election includes a call for a national paid family leave policy.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democratic senator from New York. Paid family leave was a core focus of Gillibrand’s brief 2020 presidential election campaign.
Susan Leon directs Parenting Por Vida, a program offered by Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, Arizona. Parenting Por Vida helps pregnant women prepare for motherhood and then provides educational and spiritual support for both parents during babies’ first six months of life.
Carolyn B. Maloney is a Democratic congresswoman from New York. She sponsored a bill offering paid leave to federal workers, which passed in December 2019. She’s also sponsoring the “Never Again Education Act,” which aims to improve Holocaust education nationwide. Arrange an interview with Maloney through Jennifer Bell.
Aparna Mathur is a senior economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers. She previously researched economic policy for the American Enterprise Institute and served as co-director of the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave.
Michael J. Naughton teaches courses on faith and work in the Catholic studies department at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He also directs the university’s Center for Catholic Studies. Naughton has written numerous books and articles on business culture, vocation and Christian social principles.
Richard Reeves is a senior fellow in economic studies at Brookings, where he also directs the Future of the Middle Class Initiative and co-directs the Center on Children and Families. He has studied a variety of family-related economic issues, including income inequality and paid leave.
Sen. Marco Rubio is a Republican senator from Florida who regularly plays a central role in religion-related policy debates. He co-sponsored the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act in 2018 and helps lead the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Rubio also co-sponsored a paid family leave bill, which would enable new parents to borrow against their future Social Security income to fund leave time.
Isabel Sawhill is senior fellow in economic studies at Brookings, where she works with the Center on Children and Families and the Future of the Middle Class Initiative. She served as co-director of the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is a Democratic senator from Arizona. She is widely believed to be the first member of Congress who is nonreligious, although she has not embraced the label. Sinema is co-sponsor of a bipartisan paid leave bill that would enable new parents to fund their leave time by borrowing against future child tax credits.
Lyman Stone is a research fellow with the Institute for Family Studies and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He has researched and written about immigration, education and family-related policies. Stone currently serves as a missionary in the Lutheran Church-Hong Kong Synod.
Kay Turner is the vice president for human resources at Fordham University, a private, Jesuit school that allows faculty members to take a semester off after the birth or adoption of a child.
Kate Ward is an assistant professor of Christian ethics at Marquette University. Her research focuses on the ethics of wealth, poverty and economic inequality, and she previously worked as a labor organizer in Catholic health care settings.
Tish Harrison Warren is an Anglican priest and former campus minister for InverVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries. She currently serves as writer-in-residence at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh. Warren has argued that supporting paid family leave is part of being consistently pro-life.
The Rev. Amy Ziettlow is pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Decatur, Illinois. She has written on family leave policies, including those that cover elder care, for The Atlantic, The Christian Century and other publications.
Religious activism in support of paid family leave
- From Jewish organizations:
In 2015, the Union for Reform Judaism adopted a resolution in support of paid family leave.
That same year, the organization Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community announced that 100 Jewish nonprofits had developed paid leave and flexible work programs as part of its Better Work, Better Life Campaign.
- From the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
In 2018, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed support for ongoing legislative efforts to expand access to paid family leave.
The conference also offers a backgrounder on paid leave on its website.
- From the United Methodist Church
In 2019, United Methodist Women launched an awareness campaign about the issue of paid family and medical leave. Methodists from across the country contacted their elected officials urging passage of a paid leave policy.
- From The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
In 2017, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that church employees would have access to six weeks of paid maternity leave and one week of paid parental leave.