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Democrats Blast Beto While His Campaign Walks Back Religious Liberty Stance
HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 12: Democratic presidential candidate former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern University's Health and PE Center on September 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas. Ten Democratic presidential hopefuls were chosen from the larger field of candidates to participate in the debate hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Democratic Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke is trying to clarify remarks he made at the CNN LGBT Town hall last Thursday, in which he told host Don Lemon that religious organizations should lose their tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage, as reported by Real Clear Politics

LEMON: Congressman, I want to ask you a question. This is from your LGBTQ plan, and here’s what you write. This is a quote. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right but it should not be used to discriminate. Do you think religious institutions, like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?


AUDIENCE: *Applause*

O’ROURKE: 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. 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.

President Donald Trump responded to O’Rourke’s remarks, telling supporters at the Value Voters Summit over the weekend that the candidate is a “wacko,” and that Trump would “never allow the federal government to be used to target, harass, or punish communities of faith.”

O’Rourke has subsequently tried to clarify his remarks. “Anyone can believe what they want — but organizations that discriminate when they provide public services should not be tax-exempt,” tweeted O’Rourke. 

The tweet marked a departure from his previous stance that “any institution” that opposes same-sex marriage could have their tax-exempt status revoked, not just those providing public services. 

Jen O’Malley Dillon, O’Rourke’s campaign manager, followed suit, elaborating that “if a religious organization discriminates based on sexual orientation or gender identity when delivering public services, they shouldn’t be tax-exempt. But if a religious organization simply does not ‘believe’ in same-sex marriage, Beto won’t challenge their tax-exempt status.”

“So, for example, an adoption agency run by a religious organization that denies the adoption application of a same-sex couple solely because they oppose gay marriage, would lose their tax-exempt status,” continued Dillon. “A church that declines to marry a same sex couple would not.”

As the Daily Wire previously reported, Pete Buttigieg took a swipe at Beto on Sunday for his answer at the CNN town hall, telling Jake Tapper on State of the Union, “I agree that anti-discrimination law ought to be applied to all institutions, but the idea you are going to strip churches of their tax exempt status if they have not found their way toward blessing same-sex marriage, I’m not sure he understands the implications of what he’s saying.”

Saloni Sharma, a campaign spokesperson for Elizabeth Warren, told the Associated Press on Monday that the senator would not revoke the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that disagree with same-sex marriage.

“Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and she does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax-exempt status,” said Sharma in an email. 

O’Rourke will square off against other presidential candidates, most of whom are polling higher than him, in a twelve-person Democratic debate on Tuesday.

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