During the CNN LGBTQ town hall on Thursday night, 2020 presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke openly stated that he would seek to strip religious institutions of their tax-exempt statuses if they opposed same-sex marriage. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) immediately denounced this policy as “bigoted nonsense.”
“This bigoted nonsense would target a lot of sincere Christians, Jews, and Muslims,” wrote Sasse in a statement released Friday. “Leaders from both parties have a duty to flatly condemn this attack on very basic American freedoms. This extreme intolerance is un-American. The whole point of the First Amendment is that … everyone is created with dignity and we don’t use government power to decide which religious beliefs are legitimate and which aren’t.”
During the CNN town hall on Thursday night, O’Rourke not only stated that he would support stripping churches of tax-exempt status — he also earned a round of applause and cheers from the audience for saying so.
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us,” O’Rourke said. “And so, as president, we’re going to make that a priority, and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”
Writing for The Week, Bonnie Kristian said O’Rourke’s proposed policy is simply a “bad idea” and that it does not “hold up to scrutiny.”
“In the broader polity, it simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny,” wrote Kristian. “Whatever one thinks about gay marriage — and tax exemptions for religious institutions, for that matter — this is a bad idea. It’s flagrantly unconstitutional content discrimination. It’s a shortsighted political strategy that will not play so well in the general election. And, realistically, it could do serious harm to vulnerable people being served by the religious institutions whose finances O’Rourke would assail.”
“The Supreme Court has come down hard on federal efforts to manipulate religious institutions’ internal decision-making processes; in 2012, for example, the justices unanimously struck down an Obama administration attempt to interfere in church hiring for ministerial roles,” Kristian continued. “This means that whatever O’Rourke says about making his proposed change “a priority,” he would face a steep uphill legal battle. That legal reality isn’t debatable, and it turns O’Rourke’s position into empty grandstanding. It’s also a safeguard that works both ways: If a President O’Rourke can strip nonprofits of tax exemptions based on their beliefs, so can a President Trump.”
Brad Polumbo of The Washington Examiner was even more direct, arguing that Beto wants to crack down on churches that do not support same-sex marriage.
“The candidate just spat in the face of the First Amendment. Whether you support gay marriage or not (I certainly do), this amounts to a pernicious form of government viewpoint discrimination,” wrote Polumbo. “O’Rourke wants to use the weight of the government to punish religious groups he disagrees with. It’s bizarre, immoral, and shameful.”
Some openly gay commentators, such as Dave Rubin of “The Rubin Report” and Chad Felix Greene, also blasted Beto’s call to have the government effectively regulate churches based upon their religious beliefs.
“There are many churches and temples in the United States which perform same-sex marriages. There are no mosques that do. Beto is obviously an Islamophobe. Someone call the Cancel Club!” said Dave Rubin.