Back in November of 2012, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS because of the government agency’s “failure to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.” Basically, churches were endorsing political candidates from the pulpit and the IRS wasn’t doing anything to stop it. (Part of the problem was that there was a vacancy in the position that normally handled those issues.)
Finally, last summer, the two sides agreed on a settlement:
“This is a victory, and we’re pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“Of course, we have the complication of a moratorium currently in place on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities, church or otherwise, due to the congressional probe of the IRS. FFRF could refile the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.”
The IRS has now resolved the signature authority issue necessary to initiate church examinations. The IRS also has adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations. While the IRS retains “prosecutorial” discretion with regard to any individual case, the IRS no longer has a blanket policy or practice of non-enforcement of political activity restrictions as to churches.
So the IRS said it would finally enforce its own rules. It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit for that to happen, but there you go. Order was restored.
Since then, we’ve seen another Pulpit Freedom Sunday come and go, with pastors endorsing candidates during sermons, and the IRS has yet to take any direct action against the offending churches. They still have their tax exemptions.
But a right-wing group was convinced there was some “secret deal” between the IRS and FFRF. That’s literally the phrase they used. Because, as we all know, the government is overrun by atheists… even though there’s not a single openly non-religious person in all of Congress.
Back in November, the group Judicial Watch announced that they had filed their own lawsuit against the IRS. They demanded a record of all correspondence between the IRS and FFRF — to uncover any shenanigans — and the IRS hadn’t sent them anything yet. (See?! CONSPIRACY!)
“As expressed by the First Amendment, Americans have the God-given right to both express their religious views and to engage in the political process,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is troubling that the IRS seems set to rely on a group of atheists to point them toward churches that might have criticized politicians. And it is even more disturbing that the IRS would violate federal law, The Freedom of Information Act, in order to keep secret its monitoring of Americans praying together in church. To be clear, the very IRS that abused Tea Partiers for Obama’s election now purports to be able to ‘audit’ houses of worship in order to protect politicians from criticism. I am sure the Obama administration is more than happy to use the excuse of a lawsuit by a leftist group to use the IRS to punish churches that oppose Obama’s war on religious freedom.”
“Secrecy breeds mistrust, and the IRS is the ultimate example,” said ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “The IRS is stonewalling when all we are asking for is the same information that it already provided to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We will continue to press the IRS to disclose what it is legally obligated to produce.”
A couple thoughts: Americans are welcome to express their religious views and engage in the political process — but they can’t do both while part of a tax-exempt organization. If churches want to start paying taxes, they’re welcome to endorse all the candidates they want, but they can’t have their cake and eat it, too. Same goes for all non-profit groups.
I also don’t know why the IRS hasn’t responded to these requests. FFRF has no control over that, but to suggest that the IRS is secretly monitoring church services is just bullshit… which, unfortunately, is like fuel for these groups. I just wish the IRS would take action on the churches where the pastors were practically begging the agency to come after them.
Not a single church has been punished yet. It’s disappointing that the IRS hasn’t done what it said it would do. So, hell, I’d like to see their agreement, too. Considering it ought to be a reiteration of the current law, it shouldn’t even be that difficult.
This is, and always has been, about making sure the IRS is following the law. FFRF wants the IRS to do its job. The IRS told them they will do that job. The IRS hasn’t done that job. In any other world, that would be considered a gift to these churches, but because the IRS’ deal was struck with FFRF, conservative leaders are convinced there’s something shady going on.
The only people breaking the law, though, are pastors who tell their congregations how to vote.
(Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this article were posted earlier)