Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke came under fire Friday for his proposal to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches and other institutions that oppose same-sex marriage, a plan denounced by one Republican as “bigoted nonsense.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, said both Democratic and Republican leaders should “flatly condemn this attack on very basic American freedoms” following Mr. O’Rourke’s comments on CNN’s seven-hour LGBTQ town hall.
“Last night, Beto O’Rourke said that churches, hospitals, and charities — folks who are serving their communities and loving their neighbors — should lose their tax-exempt status if their religious convictions don’t fall in line with his progressive politics,” Mr. Sasse said in a statement.
The senator said that such “extreme intolerance is un-American” and that such “bigoted nonsense would target a lot of sincere Christians, Jews and Muslims.”
During the town hall in Los Angeles, Mr. O’Rourke was asked by CNN host Don Lemon whether “religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”
Mr. O’Rourke responded, “Yes,” drawing applause from the crowd, and added that “as president, we are going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”
“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,” Mr. O’Rourke said.
Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO and chief counsel of the First Liberty Institute, called the plan a “direct affront to the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty” and promised to take legal action if the Texas Democrat made good on his threat.
“O’Rourke threatened that he would strip churches of their tax-exempt status for simply following thousands of years of religious teaching doctrine,” said Mr. Shackelford in a statement. “O’Rourke certainly isn’t the first to try such a stunt — First Liberty successfully defended a group of Texas churches and pastors in 2009 when their position on marriage and support of then-Governor Rick Perry drew the ire of the IRS.”
Christian author and journalist Rod Dreher said that Mr. O’Rourke’s view is likely shared privately by other candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nod.
“Beto just said what I’m certain every Democratic candidate believes,” tweeted Mr. Dreher, author of “The Benedict Option.” “This situation is why many orthodox Christians who can’t stand Trump plan to vote for him anyway: because they know what the Dems have planned for them.”
Several critics pointed out that such a policy would also apply to U.S. mosques.
“There are many churches and temples in the United States which perform same sex marriages. There are no mosques that do,” tweeted conservative podcast host Dave Rubin. “Beto is obviously an Islamophobe.”