Beto O’Rourke says churches should lose tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage

Beto O’Rourke
Democratic presidential candidate former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, speaks at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and CNN presidential town hall focused on LGBT issues in Los Angeles, California, on October 10, 2019. |

Former Texas representative and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said Thursday that churches, charities and other religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage should lose their tax exempt status. 

And if he becomes president, this is a policy that he will seek to quickly enforce by executive action, according to the LGBTQ plan on his website.

“Despite the progress we’ve made, members of the LGBTQ+ community are denied lives free of fear or discrimination. President Trump’s administration has made it their mission to roll back protections for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender Americans, defying their constitutional guarantee of Equal Protection. Beto will take immediate executive action to end the assault on LGBTQ+ rights and enact policies that conform to our laws and values,” his plan says.

At CNN's Equality Townhall, news opinion host Don Lemon asked O'Rourke: "Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches and charities should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same sex marriage?" 

"Yes," O’Rourke replied. "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."

In his plan for religious exemptions, O’Rourke in his agenda for the LGBTQ community notes that he will reverse President Donald Trump’s “attempt to expand religious exemptions in order to enable discrimination or harm others.”

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro, a former Obama administration official and former mayor of San Antonio, also said he opposes tax-exemptions for churches and faith-based groups that don't accept same-sex marriage and adhere to LGBT accommodations. 

In a thread on Twitter Thursday, Denny Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, who also serves as associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, said O’Rourke’s proposal was a “draconian assault on the First Amendment” and warned that it could “bankrupt many churches.”

“Beto O'Rourke calls for Christian churches to lose their tax-exempt status unless they endorse gay marriage. This draconian assault on the First Amendment is now the MAINSTREAM view within the Democratic Party,” Burk began. “This could bankrupt many churches and religious institutions because it would dissuade contributions. Many churches would lose their property as a result of being unable to pay property taxes —especially in big cities. This is truly draconian and unconstitutional.”

Burk also said that the notion of taxing churches and other religious institutions as an official government policy might not be limited to the Democrats.

“It means that we have an entire political party that is directly arrayed against Christian churches that remain faithful to Christ... for now. I do not foreclose the possibility that the other party could eventually go the same route,” he continued. “For now, though, we are dealing with one political party's mainstreaming of this opposition to churches who remain faithful to Christ's teaching about marriage and sexuality.”

He further called on Christians to stand up and oppose the proposal at the polls but warned that they should also be prepared for a culture that is more hostile to Christian values.

“My hope is that cooler heads will prevail and that the American electorate will turn away from this attempt to punish churches for their beliefs. I certainly hope and pray that Christians will press their democratic privileges to oppose this kind of injustice,” Burk said.

“Christians, we need to be ready for a new reality. We are likely to face fines and other penalties for staying faithful to Christ's teaching. Our churches may eventually lose tax exempt status. Any number of negative outcomes are possible in the approaching conflagration,” he warned while noting that “Jesus prepared us for this.”

“He told us that it would be this way, and it was always wrong to assume that such a thing could never happen to us here. Jesus' warning has always been relevant, especially now. ‘If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you... But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.’ John 15:18-21,” Burk continued. “We need to be ready to love our neighbors and our enemies and to bear witness in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward us. Ours will likely be a costly love and a costly witness.”

Independent Christian journalist Julie Roys, who called O’Rourke’s proposal “appalling,” also agreed with Burk.

“This is appalling. @BetoORourke wants to strip ‘religious institutions’ of nonprofit status if they don't tow the party line on same-sex marriage. Sad to say, I think this is inevitable. Christians who live their convictions are being increasingly marginalized. Prepare for it,” she tweeted Friday. “There's no doubt, it would significantly decrease the amount of funds churches have to do ministry. We'd be giving more to govt and less to church.”

MSNBC commentator and author of E Pluribus One: Reclaiming Our Founders’ Vision for a United America, Sophia A. Nelson, also pushed back against O’Rourke’s plan.

“How dare you suggest that we give up #ReligiousFreedom #religiousliberty and remove 501c3 tax status to churches if they oppose #LGBTQ rights or same sex marriage,” she tweeted. The Constitution, she added, guarantees “equality for ALL. Not just for some!”

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