Punishing Religions?

on October 11, 2019

Last night in a Democratic presidential debate Beto O’Rourke promised his administration would seek to withdraw tax deductible status from religious groups not approving same sex unions, amid applause and whoops.

So the federal government should punish religions not conforming to today’s secular preferences in Western society.

Of course, it is the chief purpose of nearly every religion to challenge the fashions and preferences of every age and culture. Most religions, certainly Christianity and Judaism, strive to be prophetic, which entails being contrarian and unpopular.

Our Constitution, and our broader Anglo-American political tradition, protects religious freedom and free speech, because challenge, critique, debate, and nonconformity are essential to a vibrant free society. Restricting the state’s authority over free thought and religious practice also recognizes that each person is an image bearer of God, and has intrinsic rights to think and act independently, without fear of coercion.

Withdrawing tax deductibility from religions disdained by cultural elites would only begin ongoing coercion against free conscience, in defiance of the very best of our political traditions. There eventually would be zoning restrictions, hate speech laws, nondiscrimination employment law, hiring restrictions against adherents of targeted religions, curtailment of religious schools, restrictions on religious media, challenges to parental custody based on religion. Some religions would have state sanction and others would not. Where would it end?

Beto and those who applaud presumably want to punish conservative Christians. But their war against independent religious belief would target Islam, black churches, immigrant religious groups and many other constituencies for which they claim to be champions. The only religions on the official approved list would be declining, all white liberal Mainline Protestant groups and several declining liberal Jewish groups.

In effect, the Episcopal Church, with its empty beautiful sanctuaries, would return as the official state religion, blessing whatever the state chooses.

What Beto and the likeminded don’t understand or at least dislike is that religions universally seek transcendent permanent truth, not the talking points of the day. Global religions have developed and sustained their teachings across millennia and cultures, so they don’t bend easily to contemporary demands.

In particular, all religions see in marriage, sex and family an organic trans-generational tie to creation and the Creator at odds with current Western autonomous individualism in which each person creates a self-fulfilling personal reality.

Setting aside the lofty and transcendent, there are practical implications to Beto’s dream. Curtailing and ultimately driving from American public life nearly all religion, would close hospitals, schools, clinics, therapies, and innumerable sites of humanitarian relief. It would further diminish civil society. Perhaps government could replace it all. Perhaps this statist vision is the aspiration for Beto et al.

This statist vision and dream of driving nearly all religion from public life of course will not be realized. It contravenes centuries of intrinsic American commitment to liberty and free speech. But it is a serious challenge, supported by millions, who feel threatened by religion’s claims to a permanent reality at odds with personal preference.

As with other challenges to liberty, this challenge to the free expression of religion will in the end hopefully renew our commitment to free conscience and human dignity. A great and decent people will never worship at the altar of the state.

  1. Comment by Eternity Matters on October 11, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    “The only religions on the official approved list would be declining, all white liberal Mainline Protestant groups and several declining liberal Jewish groups.”

    That’s why the “Christian” Left loves the Leftist extremists so much. Rachel Held Evans bragged about how much she donated to Beto even though he didn’t live in her state.

    Beto is openly boasting that he’ll take our guns and then our freedom of religion. He is saying what all those Democrats want but aren’t comfortable enough to say, yet.

  2. Comment by JR on October 11, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    “Beto is openly boasting that he’ll take our guns and then our freedom of religion. He is saying what all those Democrats want but aren’t comfortable enough to say, yet.”

    That’s false.

    There’s a reasonable argument for taking SOME guns, but not all. Some democrats would disagree with me on this point, but I think that most would agree.

    There’s no reasonable argument to remove tax exemption based on doctrine (though there is based on political involvement). I think very few democrats would disagree on this point. And I’m sure I talk to more democrats than you do.

  3. Comment by Lee D. Cary on October 11, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    Unfortunately, the gov’t can’t do just “some” of most everything. Once they begin taking, their insatiable appetite eventually is triggered, and “some” expands and is inflexible downward.

    Beto’s a clown.

  4. Comment by JR on October 11, 2019 at 1:08 pm


    The Government taxes SOME of your money.
    The Government regulates SOME corporate activity.
    The Government regulates SOME speech.
    etc etc ad nauseam.

    The Government already regulates SOME firearms. It should regulate more. But it should not move that needle so far as to eliminate private ownership.

    Under the Constitution and Federal law, I would argue that we should actually be expanding overall gun ownership while restricting certain types of guns from the general population.

    I agree on Beto, fwiw. I think he’s gone off the rails.

  5. Comment by Bill messersmith on October 12, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Bado didn’t go off the rails. He’s never been on them to start with. He is seemingly thinking up more and more crazy ideas to draw attention to his ridiculous campaign for the presidency. What a joke.

  6. Comment by Mike Vannoy on October 12, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    AMEN Brother!

  7. Comment by Melissa on October 11, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    You are correct. Robert Francis is saying what the Democratic Party in its present iteration isn’t comfortable saying, YET. Don’t be fooled, the extremists who’ve taken over the party are THINKING it, though. I’ve “walked away”.

  8. Comment by JR on October 11, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    Beto is wrong.

    He could reasonably argue that the Church should not be allowed to ‘marry’ anyone – that, as a marriage allows for certain tax deductions and such, it is the provenance of the state, and a marriage license should be wholly under civil authority. Under that argument, a church can have a ceremony but it has no real value in the view of the state.

    I’d accept that as a Separation argument (though I may not agree).

    But to pick and choose the theological basis for who qualifies as a Church (and thus is tax exempt) – that’s insufficient grounds. Interestingly, it’s not a bad idea to have a set of specific criteria for what qualifies as a Church, but it ought to leave doctrinal specifics out of the discussion.

  9. Comment by David on October 11, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    In countries following Napoleonic Law such as France and much of Latin America, persons have two marriage ceremonies. The legally binding one is a civil ceremony at an office while a church ceremony is quite optional. Churches are not allowed to marry anyone by themselves. The same actually applies here given that the state must approve a marriage license before any parson presumes to conduct a marriage.

  10. Comment by Byrom on October 11, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Thank you, Melissa, for using O’Rourke’s real name of Robert Francis, instead of his faux Hispanic nickname.

    Now, I’m surprised that no one has quoted the 1st Amendment regarding the “freedom of religion:” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…

    That certainly seems that a state legislature would not have to agree. In fact, several states had state religions at the time the Constitution was written.

    Unfortunately, the framers of our Constitution also had a higher regard for our courts than they probably should have.

    O’Rourke shows an ignorance of our Constitution, but I doubt that’s any concern of his.

  11. Comment by David on October 11, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    There was a tax supported official church in MA until 1833. The First Amendment was originally taken as applying only to the Federal Government and not the states. To its credit, PA never had an official church and was known for its great tolerance.

  12. Comment by James Robb on October 11, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    I would think that if this becomes a rule of thumb from Robert Francis, then He should follow through completely. In as much as he is concerned regarding organizations defying Federal Regulations, He should also include Governmental Jurisdictions and Organizations such as various Denominations that support Sanctuary Status. This won’t happen as he is as much a hypocrite as others in his political party.

  13. Comment by David on October 11, 2019 at 9:55 pm

    Whether churches, etc. should be taxed as any other private club or fraternal organization can be debated at length. However, a tax exemption should not be based on the opinions held by a group. Beto made a major error in this regard.

  14. Comment by Loren J Golden on October 11, 2019 at 10:48 pm

    When Mr. O’Rourke ran for Ted Cruz’s US Senate seat last year, his campaign was positive and upbeat.  I am not a big fan of Sen. Cruz (although I did vote for him in the Republican Presidential primary in opposition to the gentleman who eventually won both the Republican nomination and the Presidency), but when I was researching Mr. O’Rourke’s position on issues that are important to me (e.g., defense of the unborn, religious liberty), I quickly realized that I could not in good conscience vote for him.  He is a totalitarian, waiting in the wings for the opportunity, if ever he should be empowered to do so, to oppress those who believe it is morally reprehensible for a human being to deliberately take the life of an unborn child, and also those who believe that homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, et al, are sins that offend God, and for which He will judge.  I believe that, were he given the opportunity, he would see the whole Bill of Rights repealed from the Constitution.

  15. Comment by senecagriggs on October 12, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Beto answered the question: Why would Evangelicals vote for Mr. Trump?

  16. Comment by Paul Arveson on October 12, 2019 at 9:33 am

    Since Constantine’s conversion, Christians have been blessed with various degrees of tolerance and state support. But that was in the 4th century AD. We are entering an era that is much more like the situation in pagan Rome of New Testament times. As society becomes more pagan, we can expect to become more marginalized and persecuted, as were the early Christians. What a blessing to have the words of the Apostles to give us a realistic perspective: “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13). “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world, and therefore speak the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.” (I John 4:4).

    So this is not merely a political battle but a spiritual one. The division between Christ and Antichrist will become sharper, and we can expect the graces that were previously given us by the State will be taken away: the motto on our money; tax-deductible churches; protection of American missionaries; confidentiality of confessions; etc.

    Please note that this battle is not simply one between “us” and “them”; it is a struggle within each American’s heart. Churches have not always been worthy of grace; witness the sexual abuses and cover-ups by some of their leaders. The whole country is being weighed in the balance and tested.

  17. Comment by David on October 13, 2019 at 8:52 pm

    “My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege…” —Theodore Roosevelt

  18. Comment by Joan Sibbald on October 12, 2019 at 9:46 am

    U.K. recently decreed, in essence, that “the Bible is incompatible with humanity” (actually wrote that in decision) in ruling that doctors must refer to men who feel like women as “she” and women who feel like men as “he.”

    U. K. is also stripping Christian adoption agencies of their licenses because they refuse on religious grounds to give children to male and female homosexual couples.

    U.K. says religious beliefs stop at the Temple – outside the Temple all civil laws must be obeyed.

    What’s happening in UK is courts are abolishing all religious beliefs in order to prevent their new Muslim citizens sharia laws, forgetting that Western Civilization and laws are based on Old Testament’s Judeo History and on New Testament Jesus Christ, the Messiah! Not Islam.

    Bottom line: It’s Atheism that is compatible with humanity.

  19. Comment by David on October 12, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Actually laws in the West are based on pagan Roman Law and not the Old Testament. Of the Ten Commandments, only murder, theft, and perhaps adultery made it into the legal code. Of course, none of these are particularly original to Moses and probably owe more to the earlier Code of Hammurabi. On the walls of the US Senate Chamber are the images of two popes, Innocent III and Gregory IX, who preserved the remnants of Roman law during the Dark Ages. Unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity never had much of a legal tradition.

  20. Comment by binkyxz3 on October 14, 2019 at 1:38 am

    The founders were either Christians or at least Deists and court interpretations since then are the same, so the influence is Christian. Had the pagan and Roman sources you cite not been in line with the founders, they would have made them fit their philosophy. Interesting that you mention the popes and then say there was no influence.

  21. Comment by Tom on October 12, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    You’re assuming that Robbie has thought through any of this as thoroughly as you have. I don’t think Robbie has the brains to think of anything except what might get him applause.

  22. Comment by Ted on October 14, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Unless conservative Christians come to grips with the demographic replacement with the US, these small victories will be meaningless. Hispanics and Asian vote 75% Democrat and have for decades. Soon the legislative and executive branches will be filled with Betos. Then my friends, you lose everything but your heavenly reward. For more discussion on this watch the recent Eric Mataxas show on YouTube with Ann Coulter.

  23. Comment by Search4Truth on October 15, 2019 at 9:47 am

    Interesting, back in the late ‘40s a soviet leader said that to take over the United States the Soviet Union only needed to back off and let the democratic party run it’s course. Wish I could remember his name, he needs to be elevated to the status of prophet.

  24. Comment by JR on October 15, 2019 at 11:21 am

    You might want to look a little deeper into the general platforms of the Democratic party in that era, and compare them to the parties today.

  25. Comment by Edward Knippers on October 15, 2019 at 10:06 pm

    Of course, this is at the very heart of the separation of church and state. Our forefathers understood that the church and the state were equal in status. Therefore the state could not exact a tax from the church any more than the church could exact a tithe from the state. Seen in this light, the state has not the power to “give” a tax exempt status to the church let alone take it away.

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