Religious Institutions Support Refugees, But Beto Wants To Take Away Their Tax-Exempt Status

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Mary Margaret Olohan Social Issues Reporter
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2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke wants to take away religious institution’s tax-exempt status if they will not perform same-sex marriages, but religious institutions make major contributions in helping refugees.

O’Rourke sparked backlash at CNN’s LGBTQ forum on Oct. 10 when he said that religious institutions that would not perform same-sex marriages should lose their tax-exempt status. He reiterated his statements Sunday, adding that this would apply to mosques and minority churches.

Republican Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse bashed O’Rourke’s comments on tax-exempt churches as “extreme intolerance” Wednesday night on the Senate floor, calling on Republicans and Democrats to reaffirm the principles of the First Amendment.

O’Rourke said at the LGBTQ forum, “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone, any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights, that denies the full civil rights, of everyone in America.” He did not respond to a request for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation. “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.”


But religious institutions in the United States, such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service spend a large part of their resources on supporting migrant refugees — an issue which O’Rourke champions as well.

The USCCB has received government assistance since 1975, according to financial statements provided to the DCNF from the USCCB, “to assist in the resettlement of refugees immigrating to the United States and to provide specialized services to particularly vulnerable migrants, such as unaccompanied minors and victims of human trafficking” specifically from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of State under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops received government contracts and grants of up $48,482,684 in 2018 and $72,321,885 in 2017 focused solely on Migration and Refugee Services and Programs, according to financial statements from the USCCB.

These sums were used for a United States Refugees Admissions Program, Refugee and Entrant Assistance-Voluntary Agency Program, Unaccompanied Alien Children Program, anti-trafficking, and more.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service also provides aid to refugees over the past 80 years through funding from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, usually within the first 90 days that refugees are in the United States with a goal of helping refugees assimilate to life in America.

“Our organization is proud to receive support from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS),” president and CEO, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said in a statement to the DCNF.

“Beyond the financial support they contribute, these congregations are living their faith by doing the Lord’s work of welcoming the stranger – through sponsoring newly arrived families, organizing community events to build trust and friendship, ministering to immigrants in detention centers and much more,” Vignarajah added.

Many faith groups across the United States assist refugees, Religious Freedom and Business Foundation President Brian Grimm pointed out to the DCNF. Grimm examines the social and economic impacts of different faith groups in the U.S.

“One of the big areas that we find,” Grimm said, “is that local congregations themselves have a tremendous individual impact.”

Grimm explained that religious institutions have sympathies for refugees that stem from their own histories. “Catholics came here as immigrants from Ireland or Italy or other places. And then it was natural for Catholics to help other Catholics.”

Mormon groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were initially persecuted for their beliefs and ended up in Utah with established sympathies for other refugees, the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation president added.

“They’re very active in refugee resettlement,” Grimm said, specifically mentioning the Latter Day Saints Charities. The charity seeks to provide both short and long-term aid to refugees as well as resettlement support.

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