The tax-exempt status of churches and faith-based institutions will be safeguarded if they are elected president, two candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination told a sold-out crowd at a Southern Baptist conference in Nashville.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio answered questions Aug. 4 before more than 13,600 people gathered for the Send North America Conference, which was sponsored by the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board. At the conference organizers’ invitation, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), interviewed Bush in person at the Bridgestone Arena and Rubio in a prerecorded video.
With both candidates, Moore focused his questions first on religious liberty, including tax exemption. Concerns about threats to religious freedom have grown in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June legalization of same-sex marriage. Ominous comments from Solicitor General Donald Verrilli during the March oral arguments in the marriage case raised apprehensions about the tax-exempt status of religious institutions. When asked by a justice if a school would lose its tax exemption for opposing gay marriage, Verrilli said, “[I]t is going to be an issue.”
Bush told Moore a president could remove dangers to tax exemption for faith-based organizations by placing people in the Department of Justice, including in the solicitor general’s post, who “don’t threaten to take away the tax-exempt status of organizations because they don’t fit the orthodoxy of the time.”
Rubio said his administration would have officials at the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department — as well as newly named justices at the Supreme Court — who would protect the right of faith-based institutions to maintain their tax-exempt status.
Tax exemption for churches and religious institutions “recognizes the fact that these are not money-making ventures that should be paying taxes on the tithes and contributions,” Rubio told Moore. “These are organizations that are using the money they raise to carry out a social good. I know of no movement in America that does more for the common good — caring for the poor, the elderly, the sick, ministering to those in jail — than our faith community does, and they deserve to be treated that way by the tax code.”
Both Bush and Rubio, who represents Florida in the Senate, said religious liberty should not be viewed as only the freedom to believe and worship.
“[P]eople will say, ‘It’s okay to be religious. Just do it in your church and do it at home, but don’t act on your faith in the public square, because that’s discriminatory against those who may not agree with it,'” Bush said.
“It’s the other way around. This is the first freedom. This is a foundational freedom in our country.
“A president should have not just the right but has the duty to explain why this is a threat to not just religious freedom but to other freedoms,” Bush told the Send Conference audience. “You take this one away, it’s very easy to imagine other freedoms being taken away as well.”
Religious freedom, Rubio said, “is not simply the right to believe anything you want. It’s the right to live according to those teachings and to have the opportunity to spread it to others, instill it in your children and live it in your everyday life. Those of us of the Christian faith understand that we are called to be Christians in every aspect of our lives, not just on Sunday.”
“We need a president that will protect that right,” he said.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press