At this month’s CNN townhall on LGTBQ rights, Beto O’Rourke of Texas let slip something the current presidential candidates have worked hard to hide: when put to the test, they will not stand for religious freedom.
When asked whether religious institutions who oppose same-sex marriage should lose their tax exempt status, O’Rourke’s answer was a straightforward “yes.”
“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,” he said.
Of course, savvier and more seasoned candidates were better prepared to answer questions of the same nature. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s pithy response about what she would say to a supporter who said his faith taught marriage was between one man and one woman — “Then just marry one woman; I’m cool with that,” became a viral sensation.
Yet O’Rourke’s rookie mistake cast into question what the presidential candidates actually believe when it comes to religious freedom. Despite Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s subsequent decision to distance themselves from O’Rourke’s comment, everything they said at the CNN townhall revealed that for them religious liberty is, at best, a secondary right. This way of thinking presents a clear and present danger to people of faith.
Take the Catholic charity Little Sisters of the Poor, who have spent years in court because they refused to comply with the Obamacare mandate to provide contraceptives in their health insurance plans. It wasn’t enough for them to win a Supreme Court case in 2016 or for the federal government to create an exemption for religious institutions in 2018 to end their ordeal. The Sisters are still in court defending the federal exemption, which has been challenged by 14 states.
Hobby Lobby, whose founders likewise refused to comply with the Obamacare mandate due to their religious convictions, also had to seek recourse from the Supreme Court.
And most recently, Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who was sued for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, had to depend yet again on the Supreme Court to protect him. Phillips was sued immediately after the court’s ruling and is still fighting similar lawsuits in local courts.
If the examples above don’t make it obvious enough that religious freedom is in peril, the Equality Act should remove all doubt. Introduced into the House of Representatives this March, the bill will add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Doing so would make LGTBQ rights trump religious liberty in nearly any situation, essentially removing any legal protections small business owners, nonprofits, churches, schools and private individuals have to live and operate according to their deeply-held beliefs.
“This is not a good-faith attempt to reconcile competing interests. It is an attempt by one side to grab all the disputed territory and to crush the other side,” warned Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia who as a matter of fact supports same-sex marriage.
I couldn’t help but notice that the same week the presidential candidates endorsed a law that would undermine religious freedom (all nine present at the CNN townhall did), President Trump reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to defend it.
“On every front, the ultra-left is waging war on the values shared by everyone in this room,” the president said at the Values Voter Summit. “They are trying to silence and punish the speech of Christians and religious believers of all faiths … They are trying to use the courts to rewrite the laws, undermine democracy, and force through an agenda they can’t pass at the ballot box.”
But in America, he concluded, “We don’t worship government, we worship God.”
The truth is, the president has not only kept his word to defend religious liberty in America. He has also defended that freedom abroad. Last month, he became the first sitting U.S. president to convene a special meeting at the United Nations General Assembly to call for the protection of people who are persecuted for their faith. He also announced a new international alliance of business leaders to defend religious freedom.
The president understands what Pope John Paul II meant when he called world leaders to recognize freedom of conscience and belief as the most fundamental human right in the world. Without this freedom every other human right is at risk.
Given that more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with hostilities against religion, you would think religious liberty should be a major item for a presidential hopeful. Yet, so far, it seems it’s not really a priority for them. People of faith should ask themselves: Do these candidates really believe in religious freedom?
Rev. Joseph D’Souza is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network, an organization that advocates for and delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. He is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and serves as the president of the All India Christian Council.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.