Beto Vows to Strip Tax-Exempt Status From Churches That Oppose Gay Marriage

Beto to Obama: Hold my beer.

Barack Obama's IRS may have targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny, but Obama never pledged to strip tax-exempt status from organizations that disagreed with his position on an issue.

Yet on Thursday, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) said he would strip tax-exempt status from any religious organization that supports traditional marriage, defined as one man and one woman. In fact, his position essentially amounts to a government preference for pro-gay marriage religious bodies that likely violates the Establishment Clause.

CNN's Don Lemon quoted O'Rourke's policy on LGBT issues, which states: "Freedom of religion is a fundamental right but it should not be used to discriminate."

"Do you think religious institutions — like colleges, churches, charities — should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?" Lemon asked.

"Yes," O'Rourke replied — to loud applause from the audience.

With just one word, Beto O'Rourke announced he would target every single religious institution that upholds the traditional definition of marriage. That's not just the traditional definition in Christianity, but also in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so many other religions across time and space.

Naturally, the Democrat went on to support his extreme position.

"There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone, any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us," O'Rourke said. "And so, as president, we are going to make that a priority. And we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans."

Leave aside Beto's absurd use of the royal "we" to refer to himself as president. Leave aside the absurdity of his totalizing language ("the full civil rights of every single one of us." Does that apply, for instance, to religious conservatives who also have the right of association just like any LGBT group, perhaps? No?). Look at the substance of what he said.

O'Rourke suggested that conservative religious institutions are denying "the full human rights and the full civil rights" of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to marry people of the same sex or multiple people.

These institutions are not necessarily advocating for a change in the legal definition of marriage — they are merely following their traditions and holy texts in defining marriage a certain way. Organizations like the Salvation Army do not lobby the government to "take away the rights" of LGBT people. They merely ask their members to adhere to traditional Christian morality, reserving sex for traditional marriage. Similarly, groups like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship require a similar moral standard from their leaders, and they recently won a long legal battle for that basic free-association right.

Beto's pledge would amount to blatant viewpoint discrimination at the federal level, with money attached. Removing tax-exempt status from religious schools, charities, and churches on the basis of their beliefs on marriage would violate their free speech, free association, and religious freedom. But it would also involve violating the Establishment Clause.

At the time of the founding, different states had established churches. That means tax revenue went directly to support religious bodies, and only those of one denomination. The First Amendment forbade Congress from making any law "regarding an establishment of religion." By providing tax breaks to pro-LGBT churches and revoking tax breaks from pro-traditional marriage churches, Beto's policy would endorse pro-LGBT religion.

While few of the other candidates may go quite so far as O'Rourke did on Thursday, this is the logical conclusion of much LGBT rhetoric branding any dissent as "hate" or "wicked."

Beto O'Rourke is rather unlikely to be the next president of the United States. But his position may push the other Democrats in this terrifying direction. After all, the DNC recently adopted a campaign platform warning against "religious liberty." Conservative Christians are already starting to feel like second-class citizens. A policy like this would make it official.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.