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Thune: I Will Continue to Fight to Protect Religious Liberty

“I don’t just want to see religious people tolerated. I’d like to see the Democrat Party rejecting the un-American idea that being religious makes you less qualified to participate in the public square.”

October 23, 2019

Click here or on the picture above to watch Thune’s speech.


WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the growing hostility to religion within the far-left wing of the Democrat Party, which recently included a proposal to selectively tax churches based on their religious beliefs. Thune also discussed the Democrats’ desire to roll back a key provision of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which would amount to a tax cut for millionaires.


Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):


“Today, Democrats are forcing a vote to repeal the administration’s sensible rule to disallow bogus charitable deductions that are designed to circumvent the SALT deduction cap.

“Frankly, I welcome this vote and today’s debate. It gives us an opportunity to review all of the benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“While drafting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Congress made a conscious choice to cap the state and local tax, or SALT, deduction at $10,000. 

“Doing so allowed us to provide additional tax relief to the middle class, support families by doubling the child tax credit, and simplify the tax code for filers by nearly doubling the standard deduction.

“These changes resulted in the average family of four in my home state of South Dakota receiving a tax cut of more than $2,000. 

“In response to this cap, certain high-tax states adopted – what some call “creative” but I call “bogus” – schemes to try to circumvent the cap.  

“The so-called “charities” these states have set up are designed solely as an alternative method of paying state and local taxes so millionaires can shirk their federal tax obligations.

“So the IRS did what the law directed – it enacted sensible regulations to shut down these bogus tax avoidance schemes. 

“But it did so in a thoughtful manner, carefully considering more than 7,700 comments and creating a safe harbor for certain donations to avoid unintentionally discouraging actual charitable giving.

“It’s ironic that Democrats – who uniformly opposed the middle-class tax cuts in the new tax law – are now calling for a tax cut for the most well-off Americans.  

“Based on nonpartisan data from the Joint Committee on Taxation, 94 percent of the benefit from passing this CRA would flow to taxpayers with incomes over $200,000.  

“Fifty-two percent of the benefit would go to those with incomes over $1 million.

“In fact, repealing the SALT cap would result in millionaires receiving an average tax cut of nearly $60,000, while the average tax cut for taxpayers with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 would be less than $10.

“The choice here is clear. Vote no on Democrats’ tax cut for millionaires.

“Mr. President, the Democrat Party has undergone quite an evolution over the past three years.

“Like all political parties, the Democrat Party has always had an extremist fringe, but the far-left wing of the Democrat Party is rapidly becoming its mainstream.

“Democrats have been falling over each other to see how far they can run to the left.

“Socialism, a concept that – in America at least – seemed to have been firmly consigned to the ash heap of history, is now being openly embraced by the Democrat Party.

“Leading Democrats have embraced putting the government in control of everything from Americans’ energy usage to their health care.

“But Mr. President, it’s not socialism or government-run health care that I want to focus on today.

“I want to talk about another trend that has been gradually emerging in the Democrat Party, but that doesn’t always get the coverage that proposals like Medicare for All receive.

“And that is the growing Democrat hostility to religion, which culminated a couple of weeks ago in a Democrat presidential candidate’s proposal to selectively tax churches based on whether or not he agrees with their religious beliefs.

“Let me repeat that, Mr. President.

“A Democrat presidential candidate proposed that the government should selectively tax churches (and synagogues and mosques) based on whether or not their religious beliefs pass muster with the president.

“That is – or should be – a shocking statement, Mr. President.

“The idea of taxing churches based on whether or not their religious beliefs meet with a political party’s approval is antithetical to the fundamental right to freely exercise one’s religion.

“And not just antithetical … it’s frankly unconstitutional.

“Targeting churches for discriminatory treatment based on their theology is a violation of the First Amendment.

“It’s an understatement to say that it’s deeply disturbing to see this proposal emerge from a mainstream candidate.

“But what might be even more disturbing is that members of the Democrat Party aren’t lining up to reject this outlandish and unconstitutional proposal.

“But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

“Because this is not the first time a Democrat has shown signs of regarding religious people as second-class citizens.

“During some of the judicial confirmations during this administration, it became clear that Democrats believed religious people should be subjected to extra scrutiny.

“There was the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, during the first year of this administration.

“She was an outstanding judicial candidate who received the American Bar Association’s highest rating of well-qualified. (The ABA’s evaluation, as the Democrat leader once said, is “the gold standard by which judicial candidates are judged.”)

“Yet during the confirmation process, it became clear that some Democrats thought she should be disqualified because she is a practicing Catholic.

“‘The dogma lives loudly within you,’ the Democrat ranking member on the Judiciary Committee said, with the implication that anyone who takes his or her religious faith seriously can’t be trusted to hold public office. 

“Last December, Democrats raised questions about another judicial nominee because he is a member of a Catholic charitable organization, the Knights of Columbus – which participates in such disturbing activities as serving veterans, raising money for the needy, and providing young people with scholarships.

“Mr. President, the Constitution is very clear on whether being a person of faith can disqualify you from public office.

“From Article Six: ‘No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.’

“NO religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

“Mr. President, religious liberty is a foundational part of our system of government.

“There’s a reason it’s the very first freedom mentioned in the Bill of Rights.

“More than one of the 13 original colonies was founded for the express purpose of securing religious freedom. 

“And by religious freedom I don’t mean the right to worship privately as long as you don’t bring your faith into the public square.

“What people were looking for in America – what they still look for in America – is the freedom to live according to their religion, according to their conscience and beliefs, freely and PUBLICLY, without interference from the government.

“That’s what the First Amendment was intended to protect.

“I want to move away from the Constitution for a minute, though.

“There’s no question that Democrats’ increasingly hostile public attitude to religion raises some serious questions about constitutionality.

“But that’s not the only disturbing aspect of it.

“I’m also profoundly disturbed by the none-too-subtle implication that religious people are second-class citizens – that we may have to tolerate them, but that we should seek to push them out of public life.

“That idea is also one that would be absolutely antithetical to the Founders.

“The Founders didn’t see religion as something to be tolerated – they saw it as an absolute good. 

“And that isn’t just because a number of the Founders were men (and women) of faith.

“They didn’t think religion was just a private good – that it kept you in a good place with God.

“No, they thought religion was good for society.

“Think of the famous passage from Washington’s Farewell Address, which we read in the Senate every year in observance of Washington’s birthday:

“‘Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and publicfelicity.’”

“This is a sentiment that occurs over and over again during the founding – that religion is of benefit not just to individuals privately, but to the public.

“That it makes men and women into good citizens.

“It encourages them to uphold the law.

“To live virtuous lives.

“To take their oaths seriously.

“To respect the property of others.

“To moderate problematic passions like vengeance and avarice.

“Now, that’s not to say that you have to be religious to be a good citizen.

“But it does point to the truth that religion is something that adds value to society.

“That it builds men and women who are a blessing to their neighbors and to their country.

“Americans are known for being a generous people.

“I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that Americans are also known for being a religious people.

“Again, to be clear, that doesn’t mean that you have to be religious to be generous.

“But religion encourages generosity.

“Think about how much of the charitable work in this country would go away overnight without religion.

“Churches and religious organizations support food banks and homeless shelters and crisis pregnancy centers.

“They run tutoring programs and scholarship programs and mentoring programs.

“They reach out to immigrants and refugees, to struggling parents and struggling families.

“They serve military members and first responders.

“They sign up people to vote, they help families looking to adopt, they implement recycling programs, they collect aid for individuals caught in the path of natural disasters, they build houses for those without a home … I could go on, and on, and on.

“To provide just one South Dakota example, a few months ago I visited LifeLight’s new youth center in the Pettigrew Heights area of Sioux Falls.

“In addition to providing spiritual opportunities, the center is focused on providing a safe place where underprivileged children can come to hang out, play games, have a snack, and do their homework.

“It’s just one of the many tremendous things being done by churches and religious organizations in Sioux Falls and around my state.

“I doubt there’s any area where good work is being done in this country where you won’t find religious people helping out.

“So, Mr. President, I don’t just want to see religious people tolerated.

“I’d like to see the Democrat Party rejecting the un-American idea that being religious makes you less qualified to participate in the public square.

“And I’d like to see the Democrat Party standing up to condemn unconstitutional ideas like that proposed by one of their presidential candidates.

“Until then, I will keep fighting to ensure that every American’s fundamental right to live in accordance with his or her religious beliefs is protected.”