The Corner


Religious Liberty, Nondiscrimination, and the Left

Former Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke takes part in a televised town hall on CNN dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, Calif., October 10, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Beto O’Rourke’s position on religious liberty isn’t uncommon.

During CNN’s Equality Town Hall last week, Don Lemon asked O’Rourke, “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities — should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

O’Rourke responded, “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 of every single one of us.”

The following day his campaign clarified that O’Rourke meant no rewards, benefits, or tax breaks should be conferred on institutions that take discriminatory action related to same-sex marriage (as opposed to holding “discriminatory” beliefs regarding the same).

Much of the ensuing commentary characterized O’Rourke’s position as unrepresentative of the progressive view of the intersection of religious belief and nondiscrimination. But, in fact, O’Rourke’s comments are unremarkable on the Left, which generally elevates nondiscrimination over religious liberty.

The increasing tension between principles of nondiscrimination and religious liberty is a complicated issue. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held an expansive hearing on the matter a few years ago titled, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties.”

The Left’s forthright hostility toward religious freedom was noteworthy. There was little peaceful coexistence and even less of an effort to balance the interests of religious freedom with nondiscrimination. The progressive-dominated commission held that in almost every instance in which the two principles intersect, religious freedom must yield to nondiscrimination.

The Left’s view of religious liberty perhaps was best captured by then- Chairman Martin Castro’s claim that “[t]he phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance.”

Unfortunately, many on the Left view tolerance only as a one-way street.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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