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Editor: Paul L. Caron
Pepperdine University School of Law

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The IRS Scandal, Day 454

IRS Logo 2National Review:  The IRS's God Complex:

Is the Internal Revenue Service a threat to religious liberty?

As the IRS continues to come under well-aimed fire for harassing conservative groups, on Friday it secured a final court order formalizing what amounts to a secret agreement to monitor the pulpits of ill-favored churches. The serious danger, as former Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams told Fox News, is that the IRS will start treating “theology as politics,” and regulate it accordingly.

Lovers of liberty should be very concerned.

According to a June 27 IRS letter to the Justice Department, 99 churches merit “high priority examination” for allegedly illegal electioneering activities. The letter was sent in reference to a now-dismissed lawsuit filed by the atheist group known as the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). The suit originally was a rather broad one, demanding not only that the IRS enforce prohibitions against churches’ endorsing candidates specifically, but also that churches should be “required to file” what it described as “detailed annual information” that would force them (if they are like other nonprofits) to “expend substantial time and resources.”

With the end of the suit, those filings presumably will not be required (though a second suit, on just that subject, remains open). But IRS’s monitoring of alleged electioneering activities could still be quite onerous.

Traditionally, churches have been free to do just about anything short of outright candidate endorsements. Conservatives have suggested that not even that prohibition is enforced against traditionally liberal churches in black communities and that FFRF isn’t much concerned with such groups. But at least for conservative-leaning churches, FFRF has a much more restrictive agenda in mind. ...

FFRF has been crowing loudly about its “victory.” It asked for its suit to be dismissed “without prejudice” because the IRS was able to assure FFRF, in private discussions, that the agency would indeed take an active role in monitoring churches. That’s what the IRS’s June 27 letter to the DOJ, which specified that 99 churches warrant “high priority examination,” explained.

In fact, the IRS on July 22 filed a motion with the court specifically to deny the request of another church, which had become a party to the suit, for documents pertaining to the “agreement” between IRS and FFRF. In other words, shockingly, the IRS was now taking the side of the atheist group that had nominally sued it. One week later, FFRF filed a motion making clear, as its co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor put it, that the dismissal of its suit applies only if “our agreement has teeth.”

So even though the IRS will now put “teeth” into its monitoring of churches, the general public will not be allowed to find out exactly what those teeth can bite into (according to the IRS’s July 22 motion against release of documents, which the judge granted August 1).

Considering the IRS’s well-publicized penchant for burying or erasing evidence (even from Congress) of its bias against conservative political groups, this secrecy about enforcement teeth in the church-electioneering case should raise concerns from every traditionalist church and faith group.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2014/08/the-irs.html

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Comments

It is difficult to believe that the IRS is even contemplating investigating church sermons is beyond belief. So when a Catholic bishop says that you should not vote for someone who supports murder – and by Catholic tenets the killing of an unborn baby is murder, this is prohibited political speech and the IRS will act to pull the Catholic church’s 501(c)3 exemption. Why did not the IRS defend this case on 1st Amendment grounds?
I am “aware” that certain black churches and Hasidic temples go quite far in supporting individual candidates – however, no one would say that they are a predominantly political. Is this a “gotcha” game that the IRS and the atheists have concocted. Does a single mention of a candidate force the loss of the exemption in Year One? What if no candidate is mentioned in Year 2? Who wants to write the IRS regs on this?
By the way – why doesn’t this standard apply to unions or colleges or other charitable orgs. “An idea so stupid only an intellectual would believe it”

Posted by: air65cav | Aug 6, 2014 5:43:36 AM

Thanks for your ongoing doggedness and determination, Professor Caron.

Posted by: Irwin Chusid | Aug 6, 2014 8:33:35 AM