Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign is within the margin of error of non-existence, but in his failure he has found a purpose: expressing the Democratic id. His latest bid for left-wing love came at a CNN forum on gay rights, where he said that churches that oppose same-sex marriage should have to pay taxes.
Religious organizations, like secular non-profits, are exempt from taxes because we do not want government to inhibit a thriving civil society. Abolishing the exemption only for religious groups that do not toe the progressive line would be an outrageous oppression of church by state.
Other candidates have not yet echoed O’Rourke. But the crowd applauded. And his position has not come out of nowhere. President Obama’s solicitor general suggested to the Supreme Court that the tax exemption of religious colleges that oppose same-sex marriage might have to be revisited. Six of the presidential candidates, including leading contender Elizabeth Warren, have co-sponsored the “Equality Act,” which specifically states that religious believers could not invoke the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to ask to escape its new restrictions on private conduct. It would be the first congressional limitation of the religious-freedom law since it was enacted, nearly by acclamation, in 1993. Several of the candidates have also endorsed another piece of legislation that is specifically directed at shrinking the reach of that law.
If other Democrats are refraining from adopting O’Rourke’s stance, then, it is for contingent reasons of prudence rather than lasting ones of principle. The contemporary Democratic party is a threat to the first freedom mentioned in the Constitution.