IRS harassment of pro-life groups

More increasingly alarming details are coming out about the IRS scandal.  See this, for the kind of intrusive information the IRS demanded.  See also this and this for how liberal organizations applying for the same status were routinely and quickly approved, no questions asked.  And how as many as 500 conservative organizations were targeted.  We are also learning that the IRS was harassing pro-life groups as far back in 2009!  Not just making them fill out lots of forms and delaying approval for two years and more.  But forbidding pro-life leaders from sidewalk counseling and from protesting in front of Planned Parenthood abortuaries!

From Did Obama’s IRS also harass pro-life groups? – Illinois Review:

Chicago’s Thomas More Society reported first dealing with IRS concerns from pro-life groups as early as 2009.

When the Coalition for Life of Iowa sought tax exemption status in 2009, the IRS sought details about the content of members’ prayers at a Planned Parenthood facility. They also demanded that the group refrain both from activities that could be construed as protesting or picketing by police, and to cease activities that could be seen as confrontational or harassing by abortion-seeking clients.

Thomas More Society said the IRS insisted that “every member of the board of directors of the Coalition sign a statement, under penalty of perjury, that they will not picket or protest or organize others to picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood.”

Soon after the unprecedented demands were made, the Chicago-based public interest law firm made the legal challenge on behalf of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based group. Shortly thereafter, the IRS backed off and the group was granted 501(c)3 status.

“The IRS must operate within the constraints of law, and it cannot condition the grant of tax exempt status on the forfeiture or surrender of First Amendment rights on the part of any non-profit group or individual American citizens,” Thomas More Society’s attorney Thomas Brejcha commented in a 2009 press release.

But again two years later, Thomas More Society issued a letter to the IRS on behalf of a group called Christian Voices for Life. The IRS made repeated requests for information about the viewpoint and content of the group’s communications, prayer vigils, and other activities, violating the group’s First Amendment rights.

In its 2011 letters to Christian Voices for Life, the IRS demanded to know whether the group did “education on both sides of the issues,” whether members of the group “try to block people to [sic] enter a … medical clinic” during “40 Days for Life” and “Life Chain” events, whether members of the group “attempt to talk to someone trying to enter a medical clinic,” and to “please explain what you are [doing] during” 40 Days for Life and Life Chain vigils.

“The application of Christian Voices for Life clearly indicates that the organization qualifies as a charitable organization under section 501(c)(3),” stated Thomas More Society executive director and legal counsel Peter Breen two years ago.

“These requests suggest that the IRS may be denying or delaying tax-exempt status based upon the organization’s pro-life message, rather than any legitimate exemption concern,” Breen said. “Moreover, the implication in these questions that Christian Voices for Life somehow intends to engage in illegal activity is insulting.”

Yes, organizations applying for tax-exempt status must not engage in overt political activity. But that does not extend to what the IRS was asking and requiring of these groups.  Trying to convince someone not to abort her child is free speech, not a political activity!

UPDATE:  The IRS even asked a pro-life group to report the “content of its prayers“!

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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