Sen. Sasse Wants a Vote on Protecting Church Tax-Exemptions

October 17, 2019 Updated: October 18, 2019

WASHINGTON—Sen. Ben Sasse was so incensed when Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke proposed ending federal tax exemptions for churches that oppose same-sex marriage, the Nebraska Republican resolved to get every member of Congress on the record on the issue.

Sasse took to the Senate floor in an impassioned speech late Oct. 16 “to ask each and every member of Congress to answer this simple question: Is it right for the United States federal government to get into the business of policing Muslims’, Jews’, and Christians’ religious beliefs about whether or not they are acceptable? Is it the business of the federal government of the United States to determine true and false religion?

“Last week, a former member of Congress didn’t blink an eye—a former member of Congress now running for president—didn’t blink an eye when he announced that he would strip religious institutions, colleges, churches, and other not-for-profit service organizations. He would strip them of their tax-exempt status if they don’t agree with his political positions.”

O’Rourke’s declaration came during a CNN town hall on LGBT issues, when he was asked if he would support ending the tax-exempt status of “religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities” that oppose same-sex marriage.

“Yes,” O’Rourke responded, adding that “there can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, any institution, or any organization that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us.”

The former Texas congressman, who gave Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) a surprisingly tough reelection battle in 2018 but has failed to make a dent in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign, also said that, “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.”

On Oct. 16, Sasse described O’Rourke’s statement as “a pretty major departure from what America is and what we usually talk about in this body.”

“So, we should pause, and we should call that what it is. That is extreme intolerance. It is extreme bigotry,” he said.

“And it’s profoundly un-American. The whole point of America is the First Amendment, and the whole point of the First Amendment is that no matter who you love, and no matter how you worship, we believe in America that everyone, everyone is created with dignity.”

Sasse’s resolution declares that “the protections of freedom of conscience enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States remain central to the experiment of the United States in republican self-government under the Constitution of the United States”; “government should not be in the business of dictating what ‘correct’ religious beliefs are”; and “any effort by the government to condition the receipt of the protections of the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States, including an exemption from taxation, on the public policy positions of an organization is an affront to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

All senators present will have an opportunity to say “aye” or “no” on the issue, when the Sasse resolution is brought to the floor of the upper chamber.

That could happen as early as Oct. 21, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) used Senate Rule 14 on Oct. 17 to bypass the normal procedure that sends a legislative proposal to a committee and put the resolution directly on the Senate agenda.

A companion version would have to be introduced by a congressman before it could be considered in the House of Representatives.

The resolution could become a problem for six members of the Senate who are currently seeking the Democratic nod to oppose President Donald Trump in next year’s election, including Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Michael Bennett of Colorado, and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Shortly after the CNN event, a Warren spokeswoman said she opposes O’Rourke on the issue.

“Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and she does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax-exempt status,” said Saloni Sharma.

Spokespeople for the other five Democratic senators didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times. Booker was asked the same question at the CNN event, but declined to answer definitively, saying: “I’m not dodging your question. I am saying I believe fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination.”

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