Beto O'Rourke criticized by conservatives for comment about tax-exempt status and LGBTQ rights

Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is being criticized by conservatives for his stance, expressed during CNN’s LGBTQ town hall Thursday night, on religious institutions and their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage. 

The former Texas congressman was asked, "Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?"

“Yes,” O’Rourke answered, receiving applause from the town hall audience. "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."

"And 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," he continued.

Conservatives quickly voiced their criticism and dismay at O'Rourke's view. 

“You want a culture war in this country, you damn well have it,” conservative political commentator and the Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro responded

Shapiro continued that if O’Rourke was going to try to “indoctrinate his kids” at religious schools and churches “nationally” he would be forced to either “leave the country” or “pick up a gun.”

"Beto O'Rourke does not get to raise my child. And if he tries, I will meet him at the door with a gun," he reiterated.

Donald Trump Jr., President Donald Trump’s eldest son, also commented on O’Rourke’s statement, saying in a tweet that the “left and their agenda… only believe in religious liberty if it’s on their heavily dictated terms.”  

"Does your church preach the Gospel? Then Beto O'Rourke wants to take away its tax-exemption," tweeted former GOP presidential candidate Hermain Cain.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called O’Rourke's proposal “bigoted nonsense” in a statement, writing that, "This extreme intolerance is un-American. The whole point of the First Amendment is that, no matter who you love and where you worship, everyone is created with dignity and we don’t use government power to decide which religious beliefs are legitimate and which aren’t.”

Franklin Graham, son of legendary late preacher Billy Graham, who is known as an evangelist, social conservative activist and supporter of President Trump, said he “will not bow down at the altar of the LGBTQ agenda nor worship their rainbow pride flag.”

Graham has previously called on South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is another 2020 Democratic presidential contender, to repent for the 'sin' of being gay. 

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., called O'Rourke "the most honest Democrat running for President – he admits they want to shut down churches if they don’t adhere to his beliefs," and continued that Democrats "don’t care about religious liberty."

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is also running to be the Democratic  presidential nominee next year, sidestepped directly answering the same question about tax exemptions at the CNN event.

“I’m not saying, because I know this is a long legal battle. I’m not dodging your question. I’m saying I believe fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination," Booker said. "And if you are using your position to try to discriminate against others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory. You cannot discriminate." 

But, O'Rourke stuck with his comment Thursday night, reiterating on Twitter that "there can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights, and the full civil rights, of everyone in America." 

Contributing: Joel Shannon

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LGBTQ rights: Conservatives criticize Beto O'Rourke after CNN event