Senate Democrats Unsure If Religious Schools Should Have Religious Liberty

(Photo: Reuters / Yuri Gripas)Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) speaks to the media on budget talks, alongside (L-R) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), on Capitol Hill in Washington June 23, 2011.
(Photo: Reuters / Yuri Gripas)Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks during a joint news conference with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)(L) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) (R) on the Republican Filibuster of Reid's debt plan on Capitol Hill in Washington July 29, 2011.
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When it comes to preserving religious freedom for Christian schools, the Senate's second ranking Democrat says, "I'll have to think hard and long about that."

On Wednesday, in lieu of the Supreme Court's recent decision on gay marriage, Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, was asked about revoking the tax status of religious schools. He and other Senate Democrats claim to be undecided on the matter.

"There's no question this was an historic decision," said Durbin, "and now we're going to go through a series of suggestions for new laws to implement it."

The Weekly Standard asked Durbin Wednesday if the tax exempt status for religious schools was in jeopardy and Durbin stated there is no "quick answer."

Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., the first openly gay U.S. Senator in history, came out against pulling the tax exemptions from religious organizations, however.

"I just think that religious organizations should not be taxed," declared Baldwin. "The last thing we want is the government getting into the principles of each particular faith and judging it. That is wrong and shouldn't occur."

According to the Weekly Standard, Baldwin is in favor, however, of states punishing bakers who decline their services for the purpose of same-sex weddings. She compared discrimination based on religious conscience to those that refused to serve people based on race before the passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s.

Presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, simply stated, concerning pulling the tax exempt status of religious institutions, "I don't know that I would go there." Sanders, an independent and self-described socialist, caucuses with Senate Democrats.

Believing that employment falls under regulation and protections, Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., seemed to favor allowing tax exempt status for those that keep their belief contained inside the four walls of a church or religious building and outside of the public square.

"You have the freedom to teach, to preach the way you believe without losing your tax exempt status, the answer is yes. If you are affecting the rights of third parties, then you've crossed the line," he declared.

Senate Democrats have moved a long way since passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, which sailed through the Senate on a vote of 97-3. Back then rights of gays, however, was not seen in conflict with religious freedom, with gay activists preferring more of a "live and let live" message. Only two Democrats voted against RFRA legislation in 1993 and current Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), then a member of the U.S. House, introduced the bill into that chamber.

Tuesday the Christian Post reported on Barry Lynn's comments concerning an "aggressive" campaign to stamp out objectors of same-sex marriage living out their beliefs in the public square. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, "Those of us who value true equality, separation of church and state, equal treatment and government policies free of sectarian bias do not intend to be passive.

"We are going on the offensive," declared Lynn.

There is a concern from Christian colleges that if they don't allow for same-sex couples to live in married housing, they will face government penalties. Lynn provided a statement to CP that reiterated his position that Christian colleges that don't provide married housing to married same-sex couples would be akin to discriminating on the basis of race.

Some Republicans, spearheaded by Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, are trying to push forward a First Amendment Defense Act, which would protect people who find same-sex marriage contrary to their religious beliefs.

"A religious institution, whether an educational institution or otherwise," declared Lee, "just like an individual ought not have to choose between adhering to religious belief and, on the other hand, doing whatever it is that that person or entity does, there ought not be a penalty attached to a religious belief."