Pastor Andrew Brunson knows firsthand what it’s like to be persecuted for one’s deeply held religious convictions. For nearly two years, Brunson was imprisoned and detained by the government of Turkey, falsely accused of being a terrorist and used as a political pawn because he shared the word of God as a Christian missionary in Turkey.
Thankfully, my colleagues and I never forgot about Pastor Brunson, and we worked closely with President Trump to pressure the Turkish government into releasing him nearly one year ago today.
Now a free man in America sharing his faith and personal experience with others, Pastor Brunson made an ominous warning earlier this week about the uncertain future of religious freedom here in America.
"These are values that need to be carefully guarded,” Brunson said. “They are not innate to man's nature. They've been built carefully over the years and developed over the years. It's a culture and culture is taught. It's passed on from one generation to another. So if one generation refuses that culture or doesn't teach it or pass it on, then you can lose that within a generation. And I think we're very close to that."
Brunson is absolutely correct, and we don’t have to look far to see how our religious freedoms are being threatened.
Last week, presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke went on national television and called for eliminating the tax-exempt status for any church or religious institution in America that does not recognize same-sex marriage. O’Rourke’s proposal was met by cheers and thunderous applause from the audience.
Our Founding Fathers included an Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights to ensure the separation of church and state, preventing future demagogues in government from endorsing a state religion or providing favoritism to some religious sects over others.
However, this is exactly what O’Rourke and the left are proposing and embracing: conditioning tax-exempt status to religious institutions based on their support for same-sex marriage while revoking the tax exemption for religious institutions that support a traditional view of marriage.
Make no mistake: this is a chilling attempt to subvert the constitutional rights of Americans of faith in order to social-engineer our places of worship.
While some other Democratic presidential candidates are claiming they do not support eliminating the tax-exempt status for religious institutions, we have been here before. We have seen the pattern of fringe, far-left proposals gaining traction over time. Many of these fringe proposals are now mainstream Democratic Party positions.
Consider that Democratic presidential candidates are running on a platform of eliminating employer-based health care for Americans while making them pay for the health care for illegal immigrants, pushing for the erosion of personal freedoms through the Green New Deal, and restricting the First Amendment rights of conservative students on college campuses.
Democrats have demonstrated a willingness to embrace these extreme positions in order to appease their fringe left-wing base, and Democrats are already supportive of punishing private small business owners for their religious convictions. They’ve laid the groundwork to start openly embracing revoking tax-exempt benefits for religious institutions that don’t align with their world view.
One example is the pending Supreme Court case involving a Washington state florist who declined to make a floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding, arguing that she cannot "create a custom floral arrangement that celebrates events or express messages at odds with my faith." Democrats at both the state and federal level have condemned the florist, arguing that the government can force citizens to act in violation of their religious beliefs.
This week I joined an amicus brief led by my colleague Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., in support of First Amendment rights protecting artistic works and prohibiting the government from compelling expressive conduct.
This Supreme Court ruling will be foundational to the future of religious freedom in America. It signifies how important the federal judiciary is. One of the most resounding successes of President Trump and the Republican Senate majority is confirming conservative judges who follow the Constitution, including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
While Democrats may not be so bold as to push for legislation eliminating the religious freedoms of American citizens and religious institutions, their path will be through the courts by confirming left-wing judges who will legislate from the bench.
We must take Pastor Brunson’s warning about the future of religious rights seriously. The effort to undermine those rights is already well underway, representing an existential threat to the values that make America a great and tolerant nation. We must be prepared to defend our religious freedoms through the courts and at the ballot box.