Last week, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke said that churches whose beliefs don’t support same sex-marriage should lose their tax-exempt status. This week, a Republican lawmaker wants the Senate to take a stand against that idea.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., introduced a resolution on Wednesday expressing the Senate’s support for freedom of conscience.
In his floor speech announcing the measure, Sasse pointed to O’Rourke’s comments as the impetus behind it.
“Last week … a former member of Congress now running for president didn’t blink an eye when he announced that he would strip religious institutions — colleges, churches, and other not-for-profit service organizations — he would strip them of their tax-exempt status if they don’t agree with his political positions,” the Nebraska senator said.
“That’s a pretty major departure from what America is and what we usually talk about in this body,” Sasse continued. “So we should pause, and we should call that what it is. That is extreme intolerance. It is extreme bigotry. And it’s profoundly un-American.”
The resolution states that “government should not be in the business of dictating what ‘correct’ religious beliefs are” and that “any effort by the government to condition the receipt of the protections of the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States, including an exemption from taxation, on the public policy positions of an organization is an affront to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
“I come to the floor today to ask each and every member of Congress to answer this simple question: Is it right for the United States federal government to get into the business of policing Muslims’, Jews’, and Christians’ religious beliefs about whether or not they are acceptable?” Sasse said of the measure. “Is it the business of the federal government of the United States to determine true and false religion?”
At a CNN town hall event focused on gay and transgender issues last week, O’Rourke was asked directly whether religious organizations and charities whose teachings don’t support same-sex marriage should lose their federal tax-exempt status. The former Texas congressman responded “yes” without hesitation to heavy applause from the audience. Sasse responded the next day, accusing the candidate of “bigoted nonsense.”
“I don’t care what some nitwit said on CNN last week to satisfy his fringey base and try to get a sound-bite in a presidential debate,” the senator’s speech concluded. “The American people ought to know that this body stands for the historic First Amendment. That’s what we all took an oath to uphold and to defend, and that’s what we ought to vote to affirm again.”