FFRF Sues the IRS to Enforce 501(c)(3) Electioneering Restrictions

Remember last week when I said I’d probably give the Freedom From Religion Foundation an upvote every week? Well…

I’m just going to use this graphic for them from now on. They’ve earned it.

If I could adorn it with sparkly glitter and blinky neon lights without risking an epileptic seizure or migraine, I’d probably do it.

 Yesterday, FFRF sued the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. No shit. And yes, they sued because the IRS won’t friggin’ enforce the rule about churches electioneering. Basically, this is a claim of a sort of nonfeasance or dereliction of duty, something that isn’t very common. By not doing his job – by not enforcing the law – FFRF says that the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service has violated the Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution.

FFRF wants a declaratory judgment against the Commissioner – in other words, a judgment that says that the Commissioner has done wrong. It has asked for an injunction against the Commissioner’s refusal to enforce the law, which is a convoluted way of saying that it wants the court to issue an order requiring the Commissioner to enforce the law. (I know – why couldn’t they just say that?) FFRF also wants the court to order the Commissioner of the IRS to designate someone as a high-level official who can take the complaints from IRS Form 13909 and investigate them.

The lawsuit asserts that under the administration of Commissioner Shulman, the Internal Revenue Service, under the direction of the IRS “has followed and continues to follow a policy of non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)(3) against churches and other religious organizations.”  You tell ’em, FFRF!

And the complaint continues: “As a result, in recent years, churches and religious organizations have been blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)(3), including during the presidential election year of 2012.” Ya think? Just to be certain that the court is aware of the kinds of things that are going on, FFRF lists a few of them:

  • Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky required that a partisan letter be read by every celebrating priest in the diocese to congregants the weekend before the recent Presidential election;
  • On October 7, 2012, more than 1500 clergy, in a deliberate and coordinated display of noncompliance with the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)(3), including prominent megachurches, flagrantly violated the law against churches electioneering;
  • The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, one of the most prominent and respected religious ministries in the country, ran blatantly partisan full-page ads in October of 2012 in the Wisconsin State Journal;
  • Just prior to the November 6, 2012 election, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association also ran blatantly partisan ads in the the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and more than a dozen national and battle ground state newspapers
  • The Association also published expressly partisanship on its website just prior to the election;
  • Open and notorious violations of the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)(3) by churches and other religious organizations have been occurring since at least 2008, with churches recording their own partisan activities and sending the evidence to the IRS.

Did you catch that last bit? In case you hadn’t heard, the churches are violating the law and taunting the IRS by sending proof of their blatant disregard for the law to the IRS themselves! And the IRS sits there with its thumb up its ass and does nothing but admire the wallpaper.

Understandably, FFRF, which itself is a 501(c)(3) organization, is somewhat miffed by this, and in the lawsuit it said so. Why does FFRF have to obey the law but these religious organizations do not? This is religious discrimination. Selective non-enforcement of the law based on religious criteria violates the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, and, to add insult to injury,

The preferential tax-exemption that churches and other religious organizations obtain, despite noncompliance with electioneering restrictions, amounts to more than $100,000,000,000 annually in tax-free contributions made to churches and religious organizations in the United States.

I don’t know how or where FFRF came up with that number, but if it’s true, that’s about thirty-five billion – with a B – dollars in lost tax revenue. Money that we owe China. Money that would sure help with deficit reduction.

FFRF wants a level playing field, and an end to the preferential treatment. It demands that the law be enforced. By not enforcing the law with respect to religious institutions, the government is effectively giving religion a $35,000,000,000 tax subsidy. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is establishment of religion.

A private attorney, Richard Bolton, is representing FFRF on this one. Bolton is a respected civil rights lawyer in Madison, Wisconsin, where FFRF is located. I would imagine he’s going to be getting a lot of hate mail in the near future, so let’s give him some love, shall we? Thanksgiving is coming next week, and he’s someone we might just want to thank.

You can read FFRF’s own press release and the complaint against the IRS on the FFRF website. If you aren’t a member of FFRF already, it’s time to join. Even if you don’t join, please donate. FFRF isn’t electioneering, so contributions to it will remain tax-deductible. The Freedom From Religion Foundation works tirelessly to protect our rights. They deserve some love, too.



Got a legal question? Email me at anne@aramink.com. I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. You can see my regular blog at www.aramink.com, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.

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