Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke pledged Thursday night to end the tax-exempt status of churches and religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage if he’s elected, saying it’s a necessary step to promote human rights.
O’Rourke, a former U.S. representative from Texas, made the comments during CNN’s town hall on LGBT issues. Eight other candidates participated, although only O’Rourke and Sen. Cory Booker were the only ones asked the tax-exempt question.
While Booker refused to endorse the yanking of churches’ tax-exempt status, O’Rourke quickly embraced it.
O’Rourke was asked, “Do you think religious institutions, like colleges, churches [and] charities – should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”
“Yes,” O’Rourke said to applause. “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. So as president, we’re going to make that a priority and we’re going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”
Booker said there “has to be consequences for discrimination” but didn’t go as far as O’Rourke did.
“I’m not dodging your question,” Booker said. “I’m saying I believe fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination. And if you are using your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory. You cannot discriminate.”
O’Rourke’s proposal sparked plenty of reaction among Christians, conservatives and libertarians.
Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, called it “extremist and oppressive.”
“Aside from being grossly illiberal, anti-pluralist, and inflammatory, O’Rourke’s announced policy is also unconstitutional under current Supreme Court precedent,” Olson wrote at Cato’s website. He quoted Eugene Volokh, who previously said the high court had made clear that “tax exemptions can’t be denied based on the viewpoint that a group communicates.”
Thomas S. Kinn, a professor of history at Baylor University, said O’Rourke’s proposal would have a widespread impact if implemented.
“Just think of all the groups whose tax exemptions Beto would have to revoke!” Kidd tweeted. “Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, evangelicals, African American Protestants, Muslims, Pentecostals, traditional Jews…Methodists (for heaven’s sake, Methodists!!!).”
Hershael York, a dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also criticized O’Rourke.
“So @BetoORourke doesn’t care how many people you feed, clothe, educate, protect, shelter, serve, or save,” York tweeted, “… if you don’t bow to the sexual revolution, the government will make you pay for having a conscience. First Amendment notwithstanding.”