A Republican senator accused 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke of "bigoted nonsense" and "extreme intolerance" Friday over O'Rourke's suggestion to penalize religious nonprofits for their beliefs on marriage.
At a CNN town hall event focused on gay and transgender issues Thursday evening, O'Rourke was asked directly whether religious organizations and charities whose teachings don't support same-sex marriage should lose their federal tax-exempt status. The former Texas congressman responded "yes" without hesitation to heavy applause from the 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," O'Rourke added. "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."
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said the proposal was contrary to American values in a statement issued Friday morning.
"Last night, Beto O'Rourke said that churches, hospitals, and charities — folks who are serving their communities and loving their neighbors — should lose their tax-exempt status if their religious convictions don't fall in line with his progressive politics," Sasse said in a statement. "This extreme intolerance is un-American."
The statement added that "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."
"This bigoted nonsense would target a lot of sincere Christians, Jews, and Muslims," Sasse concluded. "Leaders from both political parties have a duty to flatly condemn this attack on very basic American freedoms."
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Denny Burk called O'Rourke's suggestion "truly draconian and unconstitutional."
Burk also said it "could bankrupt many churches and religious institutions because it would dissuade contributions" and put churches at risk of losing property "as a result of being unable to pay property taxes — especially in big cities."