WAGGONER: Beto O’Rourke’s Threat To Punish Churches Is A Head-On Threat To First Amendment

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Kristen Waggoner Alliance Defending Freedom
Font Size:

Until recently, the idea that the government could use its power to punish churches, mosques, and synagogues it disagrees with by revoking their tax-exempt status may have struck most Americans as alarmist at best.

After all, who would really threaten to silence and punish these places of worship just for holding to peaceful beliefs passed down through millennia?

Well, as of Thursday night, we have an answer.

Asked during a CNN town hall if his administration would revoke the tax-exempt status of “religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities,” who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman, Beto O’Rourke gave an answer that should shock us all — regardless of which side of the political divide we find ourselves.

“Yes,” O’Rourke said, evoking cheers from the invited guests of the LGBT-powerhouse Human Rights Campaign, which had partnered with CNN to host the event.

Founded upon the principles of free speech, religious liberty, and self-governance, the whole idea of American freedom rests on the understanding that these rights are pre-political, given by God, and fundamentally off-limits for any government official “high or petty” in the words of one landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of last century.

In 2015, the very Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman reiterated the same theme. Writing for the 5-4 majority in Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Anthony Kennedy affirmed that this view of marriage is a view long-held that “continues to be held … in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.”

Just last year, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, rebuking the state of Colorado for having treated him with “impermissible hostility toward [Jack’s] sincere religious beliefs”—a bigotry that showed itself not just by the vitriolic comments of state officials, but by the fact the state had treated Jack worse than others because of his religious views.

And Jack is nowhere near the only victim of the increasing government hostility toward people of faith. Barronelle Stutzman, a floral artist, has now appealed to the Supreme Court a second time. Acting without a formal complaint, Washington’s state attorney general has dedicated years to a quest for her financial and personal ruin after she politely declined to create a custom floral arrangement celebrating the same-sex wedding of a long-time customer and friend.

In New York, the state is threatening the closure of a faith-based adoption agency that has placed over 1,000 children into the arms of an adoptive family over the past 50 years. Why? Because the organization prioritizes placing children in homes with a married mother and father.

For O’Rourke, however, these unprovoked attacks on people of faith aren’t enough. Until pastors and other religious leaders get on board with the new orthodoxy, they can consider themselves warned.

Against this backdrop, O’Rourke’s threat to ramp up government-backed bigotry is bad enough. But when you consider that it’s directly in line with an anti-religious freedom resolution his party adopted this August, you get the impression that O’Rourke’s bold stance just means he’s a little too honest for his own good.

For further proof that O’Rourke’s opposition to religious believers is right in line with the new mainstream of the Democratic party, just think of the fact that not one of his opponents — nor any CNN personality — so much as questioned his stated intent to violate the First Amendment until Pete Buttigieg addressed it over the weekend.

What O’Rourke and his fellow Democratic candidates seem to miss is that people who identify as LGBT can peacefully coexist with people of faith. Tolerance is a two-way street that matters most when we disagree. As the party that has made #resist its rallying cry for the past three years, the Democratic party ought to understand better than most that the way to safeguard your own freedom is to protect it for those with whom you disagree.

The power to tax is the power to destroy. Using government power to punish one’s ideological opponents may get candidates a few votes from extremists, but it’s not what the Constitution permits, and it’s not how a free and diverse society functions.

Kristen Waggoner (@KWaggonerADF) is senior vice president of the U.S. legal division for the nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.