Democratic presidential debates provide an excellent opportunity for the aspiring leaders of the party to address and embrace religious freedom for all Americans. Religious freedom should be considered a positive fundamental American principle by both major political parties.
At least one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls -- Beto O'Rourke -- has stated that churches who don't support same-sex marriage should lose their tax exempt status. Will any of the other candidates distance themselves from this unconstitutional weaponization of the IRS?
It was not so long ago at the 2016 Democrat National Convention when the attempt to add the words "God-given" to a resolution was met with a chorus of boos from the delegates.
At their most recent summer meeting, the Democrat National Committee unanimously passed a resolution criticizing America's First Freedom, religious liberty, claiming it is used to "justify public policy that has threatened the civil rights and liberties of many Americans, including but not limited to the LGBT community, women, and ethnic and religious/nonreligious minorities."
Unfortunately, the DNC resolution, which also enthusiastically embraced the religiously unaffiliated as emblematic of the party's values and "the largest religious group within the Democratic Party," unnecessarily pits non-religious citizens and people of faith against each other in an us against them proposition at a time when our nation desperately needs more unity.
Thus far every Democrat debate has been a missed opportunity to ask the candidates their view on religious liberty. But they need to be asked. Do they agree that religious liberty is no longer a freedom worth protecting, and is, in fact, a threat to civil rights as the DNC resolution states? Do they welcome religiously affiliated Americans, or fear them in the same way it appears the DNC fears religious liberty?
Specifically, the candidates need to be asked about cases where religious liberty is under fire.
For example, do the candidates believe it was appropriate for Dallas, Texas Judge Tammy Kemp to hand former police officer Amber Guyger a Bible after she was sentenced for the murder of her unarmed neighbor? Was that a unifying act of compassion as many saw, or "inappropriate" and "unconstitutional" as one special interest group has claimed?
Do they support the inclusion of a World War II veteran's Bible in a privately owned and operated POW/MIA Recognition Table display at the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New Hampshire? Or do they side with the effort by some to remove the Bible?
Do they agree that people like Oregon small business owners Aaron and Melissa Klein should be penalized by the government and forced to close their small family bakery for trying to operate their business according to their faith?
Do they agree with the decision by a Washington state school board to fire football coach Joe Kennedy simply because he kneeled in prayer at the 50-yard line after games and after the players had already left the field?
Americans deserve to know.
Some polling indicates that those who claim no religious belief or affiliation are among the fastest growing groups of our population. If so, people of faith may soon be a minority group in America. But that too is exactly why the First Amendment was written -- to protect the right to believe and live accordingly even when your views are unpopular.
President Thomas Jefferson, who famously penned the oft misused phrase "separation of church and state" stated in a letter to a Baptist group, "No provision in our constitution ought to be dearer to man, than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority."
To Jefferson and the Founders, religious liberty was about protecting each man's right to live according to his own beliefs. They knew that if government was allowed to invade the space between a man and his God or force him to violate his own conscience, there would be no limit to government oppression. Thus, they placed religious liberty first in the Bill of Rights, without it every other freedom we hold dear would fall.
Religious freedom is so fundamental to the American way of life that it should never be used as a wedge to divide Americans. There are plenty of political issues on which the left and the right may never agree, but standing for the right to disagree, particularly when motivated by your faith, should always be bipartisan. If one of our two major political parties in America has truly abandoned this principle, then God help us all.
Lathan Watts is Director of Legal Communications for First Liberty Institute, the nation's largest non-profit law firm and think tank exclusively dedicated to preserving religious liberty for all Americans, and a Regional Fellow of National Review Institute. Learn more at firstliberty.org.