At the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, President Donald Trump issued a powerful rebuke to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who called for the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches and religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage. The president vowed that he would “never allow the federal government to be used to target, harass, or punish communities of faith.”
“On every front, the ultra-left is waging war on the values shared by everyone in this room,” Trump warned. “They are trying to silence and punish the speech of Christians and religious believers of all faiths… They resent and disdain faithful Americans who hold fast to our nation’s historic values and if given the chance, they would use every instrument of government power, including the IRS, to try to shut you down.”
While Democrats have attacked Trump nominees for their religious convictions — especially on hot-button cultural issues like same-sex marriage — O’Rourke reached a new low when he advocated for the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of religious schools, charities, and churches that define marriage as between one man and one woman. The president did not refer to O’Rourke by name, but he did condemn this weaponizing of the IRS.
“Just a few days ago, a Democrat running for president proposed revoking the tax-exempt status of many churches and religious groups,” the president said. “And you know why, and you know who it is. He’s a wacko.”
Then Trump made a promise that elicited loud applause and cheers from the audience: “I will never allow the federal government to be used to target, harass, or punish communities of faith. And I will never allow the IRS to be used as a political weapon.”
Under President Barack Obama, the IRS targeted tea party organizations for special scrutiny, resulting in delayed and denied applications for tax-exempt status. The Obama administration repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but the IRS paid a hefty settlement to tea party groups in 2017.
O’Rourke deserves the president’s strong rebuke. Beto certainly is a “wacko,” but any wackiness is far less important than the candidate’s terrifying support for a discriminatory government policy that so flagrantly violates four of the First Amendment’s five freedoms.
Fortunately, the former representative stands almost no chance of winning the 2020 Democratic nomination. However, former Vice President Joe Biden advocated a similarly chilling policy at the same LGBT town hall where O’Rourke made his infamous remarks.
When asked how he would prevent hate crimes against LGBT people, Biden called for a terror watch list similar to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) “hate group” list. He warned that various organizations are “similar to terrorist groups” in their ability to inspire anti-LGBT hate. The SPLC has long accused mainstream conservative and Christian organizations of being “hate groups,” listing them alongside the Ku Klux Klan. In 2012, a gunman targeted the Family Research Council (FRC) — which puts on the Values Voter Summit — inspired by the SPLC’s “hate group” smears.
Biden did not attack churches in the same way O’Rourke did, but his attack on religious expression may have been more sinister. While Biden has dropped in the polls recently, he still stands a far greater chance of becoming the 2020 nominee than O’Rourke does.
Many observers have characterized evangelical Christians’ support for President Trump as a mystery. How could Christians who stand for traditional morality support a man who has been twice divorced, who has bragged about sleeping with other men’s wives, and who is notoriously brash? Yet this analysis overlooks the terrifying threats to religious freedom coming from the left. Hillary Clinton posed an insidious threat to traditional Christianity, but it seems each of the 2020 Democrats is angling to weaken religious freedom in various ways, and some of them are openly attacking conservative churches.
Is it any wonder evangelicals support Trump under these circumstances? Many of them see the president as their last defense from a culture that demonizes their beliefs and a party that would even use the federal government against them.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.