Will 2020 Dems Turn Off More Faith Voters in Fifth Debate?

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Will Democrats upset more faith voters in tonight’s debate? A new extensive study released today suggests they better not.

In the last debate, Beto O’Rourke said that churches that espouse traditional marriage should be taxed. When 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 didn’t flinch. “Yes,” he replied. “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.”

Democrats balked. Frontrunners Senator Warren and Mayor Buttigieg tripped over themselves to disagree. “I’m not sure he understood the implications of what he was saying,” Buttigieg said. “Going after the tax exemption of churches, Islamic centers or other religious facilities in this country is just going to deepen the divisions we’re already experiencing.” Even The New Republic, hardly a bastion of moderate liberal thinking, proclaimed that O’Rourke “is out over his skis.” Two weeks later, O’Rourke ended his campaign.

The resounding backlash to O’Rourke, even from the left, was a striking example of a reality that a report from the pro-bono law firm The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty makes clear -- namely, that Americans of all stripes still deeply value religious liberty and don’t want to see people of faith and their institutions punished for their beliefs.

The report, a statistical index that gives extensive coverage to nearly every corner of the issue of religious liberty, finds that support for a broad interpretation of religious liberty remains strong, despite having weathered a battering in the culture wars. Eighty-seven percent of respondents, for example, believe in the “freedom to practice a religion in daily life without facing discrimination or harm from others.”

The index authors note a particularly strong desire among respondents for a “hands off government approach” when it comes to the treatment of religion in society. Overwhelming majorities support allowing religious organizations and groups to make their own hiring and leadership decisions (an issue that recently played out at the Supreme Court in the case of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC) and oppose penalizing individuals or groups for their religious views about marriage (an issue that is still playing out in the Court and is bound to be for years to come).

Above all, the index finds that religious liberty is a point of consensus in a deeply divided nation, a conclusion that is also backed up by a report released just days ago from the Pew Research Center. While respondents in that survey disagreed about the mixing of religion and politics, majorities agreed that religion is a force for good in society and is something that generally brings people together.

In short, though we may be becoming less religious as a country, we still value the role of religion and value the principle of religious liberty even more. 

And while Democrats may pay lip service to these ideas in tepid statements, the reality is that the party walks a different line. Democrats are only increasing their efforts to punish charities like adoption agencies for their religious views about marriage, to force healthcare workers to perform procedures that violate their religious beliefs and religious employers and taxpayers to pay for them, and to exclude religious schools and charities from public funding programs, yet another issue currently before the highest court. The party talks like Buttigieg but acts like Beto.

The American people strongly agree that Americans should not pay a price, literal or figurative, for their faith. And they deserve to know in clear terms that their potential president does too. A perfect task for a primary debate moderator.  

Ashley McGuire is a senior fellow with The Catholic Association and the author of “Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female.” Follow her on Twitter: @AshMcG

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