Democratic presidential candidate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke believes religious institutions that don’t support same-sex marriage should lose their tax-exempt status.

The former Texas congressman and failed Senate candidate made the threat during CNN’s Equality Townhall in response to a question from anchor Don Lemon, according to The Hill.

“Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities — should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?” Lemon asked.

“Yes,” the struggling candidate answered. “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 said.

O’Rourke’s threat to take away religious institutions’ tax-exempt status based on ideological grounds poses a dire threat to the free practice of religion itself.

Many people, possibly including O’Rourke himself, don’t know exactly why religious institutions do not have to pay taxes.

O’Rourke described the exemption status as a “reward” or a “benefit,” implying that the federal government is actively favoring religious organizations over secular ones.

This is not true.

In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York (1970) that the purpose of exemptions is to neither advance nor inhibit religion.

On the contrary, Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote in his majority opinion that these tax breaks create only “minimal and remote involvement between church and state and far less than taxation of churches.”

That’s the kicker. Tax exemption for religious institutions exists to reinforce the wall of separation between church and state, a principal that leftists like O’Rourke claim to revere.

How so? Because, as Chief Justice John Marshall put it in his McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) opinion, “the power to tax involves the power to destroy.”

Simply put, holding money over the heads of churches can be seen as a crackdown on the practice of religion, because it encourages them to alter what they preach.

If that wall of separation comes down, then it’s not the government that will suffer.

It will be religion that pays the price, in more ways than one.

If churches are forced to pay taxes, then what’s stopping the federal government from raising them?

O’Rourke’s statement pulls no punches — he makes it clear that he wants to prevent people from speaking out against gay marriage.

If he gets his way, then churches that continue to hold to biblical principles could be hit with more and more debilitating costs.

In fact, the possibility of the government taxing these churches straight out of existence is not out of the question.

And then, in the country that was founded on the principle of religious freedom, a bloated centralized government would have destroyed churches simply for expressing religious beliefs.

Statements like these just go to show the hypocrisy of the left.

When school prayer or Ten Commandment monuments are on the docket, separation of church and state becomes a paramount founding principle of our nation — at least to leftists.

But when religious institutions stand to benefit, such as with tax exemptions, the separation between church and state gets thrown out the window.

O’Rourke needs to realize that this principle swings both ways. Instead of framing the idea of separation of church and state as protecting the government from religious invasion, leftists should see it as a neutral principle that protects both the public and religion.

And in this day and age, keeping the government out of religion is more urgent than ever.

Especially if people like Beto O’Rourke are in charge.