The Corner

Are Senate Dems Already Willing to Threaten Religious Tax Exemptions?

Over at the Weekly Standard, John McCormack reports on his inquiries to a number of Senate Democrats on their willingness to end tax exemptions for religious entities that refuse to recognize same-sex marriage. The responses are interesting. While none of the Democrats expressed a desire to end tax exemptions for churches, when pressed about their position on religious institutions like Christian schools and colleges, the responses were much less certain. Richard Durbin called it a “challenging area” and noted that he’d have to “think about it long and hard.” Maryland’s Ben Cardin was more militant, declaring, “You have the freedom to teach, to preach the way you believe without losing your tax exempt status, the answer is yes. If you are affecting the rights of third parties, then you’ve crossed the line.” But he expressed uncertainty as to how employment protections “apply to Christian-run schools.”

Tammy Baldwin, however, strongly supported tax exemptions:

“I just think that religious organizations should not be taxed,” Baldwin told McCormack. “The last thing we want is the government getting into looking at the principles of each particular faith and judging it. That is wrong and shouldn’t occur.”

The uncertainty (Senator Durbin) and hostility (Senator Cardin) are ominous. After all, as Rich Lowry has noted, the real battle over religious tax exemptions won’t necessarily start in Congress, but with a target of opportunity:

The move against religious groups will surely start small, with some isolated, unsympathetic Christian institution, and then grow until what once had been called unimaginable becomes mandatory.

In other words, Durbin and Cardin will one day be asked this question when the entire social-media left is braying for a scalp — with tweets trending across the land — attacking a college or school that perhaps handled a delicate situation clumsily or made intemperate public statements. In such a case, we know what Republican politicians often do. They tend to Pence away from controversy, unable to withstand 72 hours of hashtags and jumping exactly as high as or Walmart tell them to jump. Meanwhile, today’s uncertain Democrat is tomorrow’s social-justice warrior, with doubts and misgivings burned away in a glorious blaze of self-righteousness. The next shoe will drop — right on a target of the Left’s choosing.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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