O’Rourke Pledges To Strip Religious Organizations Of Tax Exemption If They Do Not Support Same-Sex Marriage

Roughly 15 years ago, I wrote about the collision between anti-discrimination laws and the free exercise of religion. I have been critical of the premise of the use of the tax code to effectively punish organizations that do not comport with the IRS’s view of good public policy. Now, presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has fulfilled the prediction in the piece by promising to strip religious organizations of the tax exemption if they do not recognize same-sex marriage.

O’Rourke was asked by CNN’s Don Lemon “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities – should they lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

O’Rourke answered “yes” to the wild approval of the crowd. He added:

“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. So as president we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing on the rights of our fellow Americans.”

The use of the tax code to enforce such values is not new to Beto O’Rourke who recently promised also to revoke the NRA’s tax exempt status.

The use of the tax code to enforce such values was endorsed by the Supreme Court in the 1983 case of Bob Jones University v. United States. The Court ruled that revoking the tax exempt status of the university (which followed discriminatory principles) did not violate the First Amendment. While I found the policy of Bob Jone University deeply offensive, there remained the threshold free speech and free exercise questions. In 2005, I wrote about this case and the prospect of being used in this way:

“The debate over same-sex marriage represents a coalescing of rights of free exercise, free speech, and expressive association. With the exception of abortion, same-sex marriage is almost unique in blurring neat divisions between these rights. Many organizations attract members with their commitment to certain fundamental matters of faith or morals, including a rejection of same-sex marriage or homosexuality. It is rather artificial to tell such groups that they can condemn homosexuality as long as they are willing to hire homosexuals as a part of that mission. It is equally disingenuous to suggest that denial of such things as tax exemption does not constitute a content-based punishment for religious views. . . . The denial of tax-exempt status presents a particularly serious threat to these organizations and puts them at a comparative disadvantage to groups with contrary views.”

The fact that O’Rourke’s proposal received such enthusiastic support shows the danger of using the tax code to enforce majoritarian values. I have long proposed a blanket guarantee of tax exemption for non-for-profit organizations or no exemption for any organizations. What I find troubling is the use of the tax code for content-based discrimination between organizations.

168 thoughts on “O’Rourke Pledges To Strip Religious Organizations Of Tax Exemption If They Do Not Support Same-Sex Marriage”

  1. In the Bob Jones University case, the institution’s tax-exempt status was revoked because their religion forbade inter-racial dating. So what? If you don’t agree with that, you can choose another college. But BJU wasn’t the Catholic Church, nor any major denomination. The nitwit Beto’s plan comes awfully close to revisiting the IRS/Lois Lerner scandal of delaying and denying tax-exempt status of conservative orgs that some IRS executive doesn’t agree with. I don’t think the IRS wants a re-run of that mess; nor do I think the Supreme Court would want to cause an uproar by removing tax-exempt status to Catholics or any mainstream group. It was easy to virtue-signal by singling out BJU, but no, they’re not going after Georgetown, Norte Dame, the Univ. of San Francisco or any other nominally Catholic university or institution.

    1. @TIN

      I remember the Bob Jones situation well back in the early 80’s and the discussion regarding what this precedent might lead to. And it is happening. Do not be surprised if non-conforming religious institutions lose their tax exempt status not only due to their views regarding sodomite “marriage”, but other issues which violate political correctness (i.e. pro-life).

      Don’t you love leftist tolerance for those who disagree?


    2. The right thing to do is always the right thing to do.

      “If all earthly power were given me,” said Lincoln in a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854, “I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” After acknowledging that this plan’s “sudden execution is impossible,” he asked whether freed blacks should be made “politically and socially our equals?” “My own feelings will not admit of this,” he said, “and [even] if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not … We can not, then, make them equals.”

      – “Crazy Abe” Lincoln (“Honest” was used sarcastically, BTW)

  2. May this action, say denial of tax subsidies also be extended to sports franchises that cave to the Chinese e.g. NBA

    1. While I don’t favor any tax breaks for sports franchises, that is a local decision that may be based on business, and what you suggest would be a restriction on free speech.

  3. (Music to the tune of the Armour Hot Dog Song)\
    Beto… he’s named Beto….
    What KIND of people are named Beto?
    Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks.
    Dumb schucks, stupid chucks, even kids with chihcken pox..
    Are all Betos….
    The dog… kids…. like… To BITE!

    1. Here is a more concise song: to the music of Short People by Randy Newman)
      Bent people got no reason.
      Bent people got NO reason…
      Bent people got no reason to live!

      They got little bitty eyes… little bitty feet…
      Little bitty voices that go peep, peep peep.

      Don’t want no BENT people.
      Don’t want no BENT people..
      Don’t want no Bent people round here!

  4. The catholic high school that I went to was renamed for the current pope. Very few of the alumni were in favor of this.

  5. A few of us at the Cathedral, including a few Deacons who are attorneys, have hoped that the victims of sexual abuse for the past 60+ years will prevail in court and bankrupt every single Catholic Diocese in America. Bankrupt them all.

    Then, as St Francis of Assisi believed, “rebuild my church”

    It would be a magnificent purging of all of the clericalist priests and bishops, those who use the church as an NGO, and pew-warmers.

    Of course this would mean that atheists, agnostics and SJWs would pick up the slack of caring for the millions and millions of people who depend on the corporal works of mercy by the Catholic Church. Good luck with that.

    Anon1 might very well be the type of person who feeds the hungry, nurtures the poor, visits prisoners, cares for the sick, comforts the dying, consoles the afflicted, provides for orphans and advocates for life from conception to natural death. Amiright?

    “NIMBY” roars the crowd

    1. Estovir – you have the non-Catholic Pope, so desperate, that he is considering ordaining married men.

      1. “A God you understood would be less than yourself.”
        – Flannery OConnor

        In other words, Paul, to be less elegant that Flannery OConnor when it comes to your “agnosticism”, grow a pair

        1. Estovir – if you would like a full-blown discussion of how I feel about this particular Pope and how Catholicism should change, we can have that discussion. BTW, I was born with a pair.

      2. Paul, say it ain’t true; ‘married men in the priesthood’..??? My God, think of the chaos that would cause! Why the Catholic Church wouldn’t be much different than The Church Of England.

        1. Hill – it would not be the first time their were married priests. And Catholics can do their Sunday duty by attending the CofE. 😉

          1. And Catholics can do their Sunday duty by attending the CofE.

            They cannot. You can do so at an SSPX chapel. You can attend Mass at an Orthodox congregation if there are no Catholic churches around, but you’re not obligated. IIRC, there is open communion for Orthodox and non-Chalcedonian adherents.

            Hill – it would not be the first time their were married priests.

            The Eastern-rites commonly ordain married men. Only about 3% of all Catholics are Eastern-rite, however, and that dispensation isn’t found in all eparchies.

              1. Not recently. The Church has had disciplinary problems on the qt. That aside, the divergence of Eastern and Western practice I think dates from the 7th century AD. Even in the early Church, celibacy was always preferred.

                I believe an Eastern-rite Catholic bishop can be a married man, something not done in the Orthodox bodies, where bishops are commonly drawn from monasteries.

        2. The Church of England is a tax-supported, “established” church, which makes is different than the RCC in almost every nation where Rome has a presence.

          Although Rome, through concordats, allows local despots (like Xi Jinping in China) to pick bishops instead of insisting this is the Pontiff’s decision and that of the faithful. In other words, in England, the government pays the Church. In China members of the Church pay for being Catholic.

          That’s different than China’s gulag for Muslims in Shenyang province only by degree. China maintains a Chinese National Catholic Church which is roughly the same sycophantic deal as the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia was under Communism and went back to being under Putin.

    2. As I noted above, I favor tax exemption for charitable work and limited organizational and facilities costs of religious groups and other non-profit organizations.

  6. A much more important “freedom of religion” issue, since it is not about the opinions of someone who will not be president, but is actually being fought out in state legislatures and affects public health, is the movement for religious exemptions for school children’s vaccines. This is especially insane as the science and threat is clear.

    1. Yes, I agree with you Anon1, the Science is clear, vaccines have been proven to be neither safe or effective, that vaccine makers are in violation of law in the US vaccines haven’t been tested as they were suppose to have been.

      That it has been demonstrated that vaccines are being used as a vector for biological & chemical weapons against all of humanity.

      If someone/govt/schools attacks you/family/kids with a vaccine you should be “In Fear For Your Life” & respond in kind to their threat of harm.

      BTW: That secret star chamber vaccine court needs to be forced into the light of day so the public can see/hear about the damages vaccines are causing.

      Ck you: SV40, Maurice Hillerman.

    2. Thanks Oky for your announcement in the public service. Your opposition to vaccines will alarm any reasonable person to seek further information on the crackpot anti-science movement against them.

      “Vaccine hesitancy is a reluctance or refusal to be vaccinated or to have one’s children vaccinated. It is identified by the World Health Organization as one of the top ten global health threats of 2019.[1][2…

      An analysis of tweets from July 2014 through September 2017 revealed an active campaign on Twitter by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm accused of interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, to sow discord about the safety of vaccines.[252][253] The campaign used sophisticated Twitter bots to amplify highly polarizing pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine messages, containing the hashtag #VaccinateUS, posted by IRA trolls.[252]…”


      “…All vaccines used in the United States are required to go through years of extensive safety testing before they are licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work with healthcare professionals to monitor the safety of vaccines, including any adverse events, especially rare events not identified in pre-licensure study trials. There are currently three systems used to monitor the safety of vaccines after they are licensed and used in the US. These systems can monitor known side effects and detect rare side effects that may not have been identified during clinical trials.

      One of the three systems used to monitor the post-licensure safety of vaccines in the US is the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS accepts reports from healthcare professionals, vaccine manufacturers, and the general public and receives more than 25,000 reports per year, compared with millions of vaccine doses given to adults.

      NFID developed a #ShotOfScience campaign to share tools and resources on the history and science of vaccines. Campaign materials include sample social media posts and animated graphics.

      (A list of links for further information available at this website)

      Ensuring the Safety of Vaccines in the United States

      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

      If You Choose Not to Vaccinate Your Child, Understand the Risks and Responsibilities

      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

      Influenza Vaccine Safety

      Childhood Influenza Immunization Coaltion (CIIC)

      The Childhood Immunization Schedule and Safety: Stakeholder Concerns, Scientific Evidence, and Future Studies

      Institute of Medicine (IOM)

      The Journey of Your Child’s Vaccine

      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

      Understanding MMR Vaccine Safety

      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

      Understanding the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)

      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

      Understanding Thimerosal, Mercury, and Vaccine Safety

      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

      Understanding Vaccines


      Vaccines Are Safe: 3 Phases of Clinical Trials

      National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)

      Vaccines Are Safe: 4 Separate Surveillance Systems

      National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)

      Vaccines Are Safe: 5 Phases of Research & Development

      National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)

      Vaccines Are Safe: 16 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

      National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)

      Vaccines Are Safe: Billions of Doses

      National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)

      Vaccine Safety Infographic

      National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)

      Vaccine Information Statements (VIS)

      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

      Vaccine Confidence Project

      London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine..”


      1. If your vaccines work so well & you & your kids a vaccinated me & my kids should be of no threat to you & yours! What, you don’t trust your vax to work?

        And I guess it’s another case of a vax injury that didn’t make the news a few years back of some friends of ours that the husband was Forced to get a Flu Vax for his job & was immediately paralysed for life. As it warns people of this & other possible deadly life threatening side effects in the vaccine makers own Insert! Read the Insert People, they’re online also!!

        And if Vaccines are so Safe & Effective why should they have unconstitutional product liability immunity & unconstitutional secret star chamber Vaccine Courts that are paid for by vaccine maker victims.

        The science is settled vaccines could work, just not the life threatening crap they a currently putting in them.

        So take all that vax crap you want & stay the hell away from everyone else while you’re vaccine shedding for the nest 60/90 days. Enjoy your Cancer Treatment.

        And pulling needle on someone is no different then if you pulled a knife or a gun, doing it with a white lab coat on makes no difference at all of the very real threat.


  7. I concur completely that there should not be special tax treatment for churches.

    Oh, Professor Turley, have you read about Trump’s joint defense agreement with the Russian Mob? Check out emptywheel.

    1. Don de Drain – I do not have a Twatter account so her statement is cut off.

  8. Religious organizations should not have tax exemptions. I don’t care what they preach or believe.

    1. I’m definitely in favor of tax exemptions for charitable work by churches or other organizations, and even for some level of organizational and facilities costs, but it shouldn’t be open ended for wealth accumulation.

      I’m an atheist.

      1. As an agnostic, I am fine with churches being tax exempt. However, if they decide that churches have to pay taxes, then I will make sure that all public universities pay taxes.

  9. The tax code has always been used to reward or punish certain behaviors. One may take a deduction or credit for some things but not others. Refusal to pay taxes because of their use for war is not permitted, regardless of the persons deeply held religious beliefs, for example. There is no remedy to resolve all conflicts regarding tax collection and use.

  10. all catholics in our government should be excommunicated for their pro abortion stance.

        1. Thanks for asking, Pauly. My answer:

          Is anyone Catholic? Is anyone good? Is anyone loyal, authentic, honorable and true?

          Here is food for thought by an excellent Jesuit biblical scholar and theologian, Father Michael Simone, SJ.

          Pax Vobiscum


          One of them, realizing he had been healed, returned and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.’ (Lk 17:15-16)

          Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
          2 Kgs 5:14-17, Ps 98, 2 Tm 2:8-13, Lk 17:11-19

          God’s generosity should inspire our gratitude

          Last Sunday, the Gospel reading encouraged us to consider the difference between disciples and servants. A servant, lacking faith, works to receive thanks, but gets none, whereas a disciple with faith lives out the Gospel as a means of giving thanks. Luke follows that lesson with the miracle story in this Sunday’s Gospel, which warns against another mistake disciples can make: treating salvation as an entitlement. Whereas the missing ingredient in last week’s Gospel was faith, in this Gospel reading, the missing element was gratitude.

          At first glance, the miracle story in this Sunday’s Gospel reading is similar to a healing recorded in Lk 5:12-16, early in Jesus’ ministry. The traditions are similar enough that they may have actually influenced each other as they were told and retold. But there are some significant differences, which draw our attention to the role of faith.

          Jesus encounters these lepers on his trip to Jerusalem. This is a time during which he gives extensive instructions in discipleship. Also, in contrast to the healing in Lk 5:12, Jesus does not reach out, touch or pray over the stricken men. They remain at a distance the whole time, and his only word to them is, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” In this Luke foreshadows Jesus’ statement, “Your faith has saved you.”

          Such faith entails openness to God’s grace. All 10 lepers believed Jesus could heal them. Their mistake was in taking that healing for granted, forgetting that faith, although it gave God an opportunity to act, did not entitle them to a display of divine power. Only one realized that his healing was an unmerited grace, the one who returned to give thanks.

          God does not make deals or offer transactions. Faith is not a thing God demands from us; it is a spiritual stance, an open heart that gives God room to maneuver. If discipleship without faith is servitude, then faith without thanksgiving is commerce.

          It is easy to fall into this trap, especially for those who work for faith-based organizations or struggle to advance in discipleship. It might become easy to feel that we have built up some kind of credit with God, that our acts of discipleship are like cash deposits in a bank. It is easy to forget to give thanks when a subtle whisper in our psyche suggests that God owes us.

          True discipleship, as demonstrated by the Samaritan leper, is an expression of thanksgiving. He was the only one who recognized the utter freedom of divine grace, and the only one who acknowledged his own need to respond by giving thanks. In that, he was a model disciple, someone with faith enough to give God room to act and humility enough to be grateful.

          This remains the case. The grace we receive every day is a free gift from the God who loves us. It is the power with which we overcome obstacles, find healing, resist temptation and serve the needs of the kingdom. That we can receive that grace and act out of it is cause for a lifetime of thanksgiving.

          How can you make sure you remember to give thanks?

          What saving deed has God done for you or someone you love?

          What tasks of discipleship can you use to give thanks to God?


          1. Estovir: Unfortunately, the worst people I’ve ever dealt with have been practicing Catholics. They go to church on Sunday, and then stab you in the back at work on Monday. It caused me to leave the CC, and I’ve seriously considered becoming a Mormon. I don’t believe in the Mormon faith, but at least I would be associated with people who are known to like and support one another.

            1. Chuckles. You’re a lousy employee, and you’re blaming members of your favorite bogie groups.

  11. I didn’t see the interview but am willing to guess Lemon did not follow up with the question “Are you going to include Islam in your plan to target religions or will there be a Muslim Exception?”

    1. @Dawn

      Very observant! Lemon didn’t ask and Beta would not have answered anyway because neither wanted to be found beheaded in some urban dumpster.

      No one with any sense jokes about or demeans “the religion of peace”.


  12. Your worries shouldn’t be about the tax code but the un-Constitutional nature of liberals recent goals and statements. It’s not Freedom from Religion – it’s Freedom of Religion. It’s freedom of speech and freedom of association. This authoritarian strain like Beto is now deep into liberal conscience and the Democrat party as a whole. They dove deep into intersectionality and have emerged as the party who doesn’t believe in America or our constitution.

  13. I am in agreement with those here that challenge whether the churches should have a tax exemption at all. When was the last time there was a means test? Many Churches do good work and should have the help of the public but how do we know when they are never held accountable?

  14. Even easier. No “if.” It would read quite nicely as “O’Rourke Pledges to Strip Religious Organizations of Tax Exemption.”

    I do not like to support, even indirectly, any cult. It is so difficult to distinguish a cult (no tax exemption) from a sect of an established religion. I neither want to support Catholic education nor Muslim education; they aren’t my religion, so why should I support them? I am free to practice my religion my way in private with neither government support nor sanction. I don’t want priests and ministers to have special tax favors of any kind.

    Do I want you free to practice your religion in a way privately so that no one knows your religion? Absolutely. Do you have a right to preach in the public square? Absolutely. Religion and politics are the areas where free speech is most important. Do I want homosexuals to be free to practice their activity in private? Of course.

    In all cases, though, public policy should be such that it neither favors religion (tax exemption) nor disfavors religion (taxes exclusively on religious organizations).

    The US Constitution prohibits a State Religion. No State-Established Religion. No particular religion for all in the US.

    1. “The US Constitution prohibits a State Religion.”
      True but as this country moves toward Communisim it’s clear the religion that worships The State as God is taking hold.

    2. Ok, what if I told you that in my personal opinion, I consider the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and SPLC to have become ‘cults’, too? I would also consider progressivism to be a religion. How do we define these things? That could be a slippery slope for a lot of folks. Maybe you’re right, though, and we could do away with tax-exemption altogether, for everyone. Do you honestly believe that would work, tilted in the other direction?

      1. James, you ask if I think it would work. Well…. It could work. And, of course, ‘would’ and ‘could’ are not the same.
        All corporations are created equal.

        Each church, synagogue, mosque and religious meeting place is a corporation. If corporations are required to file certain papers and statements of income and expenses then … .

      2. I agree with your post.

        Last heard, a decade or so back, tax exempt charities employed around 11% of the US pop.

        Just like the millions that are directly or indirectly employed by the govt tax exempt charities have built themselves a massive lobbing group that has a vested interest that things continue as they are, right or wrong.

        I understand why Trump hasn’t attempt to end Tax exempt charities & also why he hasn’t cut govt employees & contractors by 2/3rds, but it doesn’t mean he should not.

        ( & cut their govt pension completely out is what frm Deputy Sec of State Steve Pieczinkc suggest & I agree… because leaders wouldn’t speak up befor & after 911 because they were in fear of losing their pensions. Well, if there’s no pension there govt employees would be free to speak up.)

  15. The truth is the tax exemption for all religions should be eliminated. Big churches, such as the Catholic Church (by no means alone) have vast real estate holdings, millions of dollars of books, art works, jewels, gold, riches. Whether or not they do, there is no rational basis for not taxing them. Look at how the television evangelists live! Turley is becoming more conservative by the day.

  16. I ca not say I’d shed a tear if some type of painless thing occurred that resulted in O’Rourke being unable to talk.

    The other news, besides that O’Rourke is a blathering idiot who spits on the law and wants to be POTUS, is that the MSM and DNC goes along with his tripe, helping to make it more palatable and main stream.

    1. Odious local media project these cretins in robes by refusing to publish the names of judges responsible for these travesties.

  17. It’s unsurprising. This is who they are, that’s what they do. It’s another reason, in case you needed one, that for a free society to thrive, the Democratic Party must be electorally destroyed and replaced with something passable.

    1. TIA X IV……….in 2008, and after 40 years serving the Texas Dem Party, I told friends of mine who were leaders of the party and who were still speaking to me, that we needed to strike the set and start all over. ..that the Alinsky Obama and PC factions were rendering the Party unrecognizable compared to what it thought it once was. I was just a Texas granny housewife and could see that…so it wasn’t that difficult.

      The further that boat sails away from me, the smaller it looks……..I can’t believe I was ever on board.

      1. Cindy I left the Republican Party when Jeb Bush was governor of Florida. I remain a Democrat only to have a voice in the primaries. Otherwise we as a family continually vote for the family dog for President because he is faithful.

        There is no political party that represents us at home but we stay Democrat just to piss off our liberal friends and argue, “we are registered Democrats!”. That I am also an immigrant discombobulates them


        1. Estovir…..I think I understand your mini-rebellion……but I tell ya, if you in reality, “unregister” yourself from the Democrats, food will taste better, you’ll look younger, and there’ll be a spring in your step.

          1. Cindy Bragg – I have been a registered Independent for over 40 years. Now there are more Independents in Arizona than Republicans or Democrats. They really want my vote. 😉

            1. Paul C….You are wise! .Everyone should be independent in their voting. In Texas, no one is an actual “registered” voter for a particular party. You just vote in whichever primary you want…..but if there is a run off, you must vote in the same party’s run off as in the primary……if that makes sense?!

              1. Cindy Bragg – originally you could only vote in the primary for the party you were registered for in AZ, so Independents didn’t get to vote in the primary. Then they changed it and Independents could choose which party they wanted to vote for. However, to keep the Independents from selecting their candidates, the Democrats selected all of their major candidate in a party caucus prior to the primary so the Democrats had a straight ballot. Only the Republicans had a competitive ballot.

                1. Paul….my gosh…that’s unbelievable.
                  I think it should all be open……with these stipulations:
                  must be a citzen, must live in district, and or state, must vote only once per election.

                2. Why should people not of a political party have a say in choosing it’s candidates?

                  By the way the Arizona GOP cancelled its 2020 presidential primary. Their right as I see it, but if I was republican there I’d be ticked and wonder who’s party was it..

                  1. Anon1 – if the Democrats in Arizona can select their major candidate in caucus, I see no problem with the Republicans cancelling its primary. They will save a lot of money. That is money they can use in the general.

                    1. So Paul, you are for party bosses deciding candidates. That is OK, but an interesting throwback to earlier times.

                    2. Anon1 – I am a registered Independent. I do not get a say. If it were up to me I would go back to the Boss Tweed days and all candidates would be personally vetted by me. Lots of money would cross my palms.

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