Buttigieg pushes back on O'Rourke threat to strip religious institutions of tax-exempt status

2020 presidential candidate Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWarren 'fully committed' to 'Medicare for All' New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out MORE (D) on Sunday took aim at former Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeDeval Patrick enters 2020 race O'Rourke says he 'absolutely' plans to stay in politics Krystal Ball: Buttigieg is 'the boomer candidate' MORE (D-Texas) for saying that religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage, arguing the policy would only "deepen the divisions we’re already experiencing."

"I agree that anti-discrimination law ought to be applied to all institutions. But the idea that you’re going to strip churches of their tax exempt status if they haven’t found their way towards blessing same-sex marriage, I’m not sure [O'Rourke] understood the implications of what he was saying," Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., said on CNN's "State of The Union" while discussing comments O'Rourke made during the network's LGBT town hall.

"That means going to war not only with churches, but I would think with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do. But also because of the separation of church and state are acknowledged as nonprofits in this country."

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Buttigieg went on to emphasize that anti-discrimination laws must be followed by religious institutions. But he stressed that "going after the tax exemption of churches, islamic centers or other religious facilities in this county" would potentially cause more polarization in the country. 

The comments came just days after O'Rourke, a 2020 presidential candidate, came under fire from conservatives for asserting that religious institutions like colleges, churches and charities should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose gay marriage. 

Asked about the issue during the Human Rights Campaign-sponsored Equality Town Hall, O'Rourke said, "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."

"As president, we're going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans," he added. 

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A variety of conservatives criticized O'Rourke following the remarks, saying that it would amount to a war against religious institutions.

"You want a culture war? You damn well have it, Beto O'Rourke," Prominent conservative commentator and Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro said. 

"Beto O'Rourke does not get to raise my child. And if he tries, I will meet him at the door with a gun," he added, referring to O'Rourke's suggestion that the policy should apply to religious schools.

O'Rourke doubled down on his position following the town hall, tweeting Thursday night that there can be "no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights, and the full civil rights, of everyone in America."

Buttigieg, an openly gay man who was married in the Episcopal Church he attends, has consistently discussed topics related to faith and religion while on the campaign trail. He told The Hill earlier this month that Democrats had an opportunity to win over religious voters that have helped form the Republican base. 

“What I see right now is a lot of religious voters who are looking for options, because what’s happening in Washington and especially in this White House is an affront to any number of religious traditions, including somewhat conservative ones,” Buttigieg said.