The Internal Revenue Service has rejected a Texas-based Christian group’s application for nonprofit status because it is supposedly too closely associated with the GOP.
In a letter written by Stephen Martin, the government official in charge of exempt organizations claimed that Christians Engaged participate in “prohibited political campaign intervention” that disqualifies the group from 501(c)(3) status of the tax code and that it does not operate “exclusively for religious and educational purposes.”
The letter also insists that Christians Engaged is “serving the private interests of the Republican Party more than incidentally” and that the way the ministry presents biblical material is “typically affiliated with the Republican Party and candidates.” The IRS further noted that GOP activists comprise the group’s leadership positions.
The IRS beef with Christians Engaged apparently centers on its biblically-based education in the context of “the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and borders and immigration, US. and Israel relations.” The agency implies that these are GOP-centric issues.
The agency official questioned the even-handedness of the Christian organization: “When you educate voters on what the bible says about issues, your educational activities are not neutral. The topics typically are affiliated with distinct candidates and specific political party platforms.”
The denial comes with an automatic 30-day right to appeal. The First Liberty Institute legal organization, which is headquartered in the Dallas area and which specializes in religious freedom cases, has already come to the defense of Christians Engaged.
Most recently, First Liberty successfully represented a Michigan high school valedictorian who was initially blocked from mentioning her faith in the speech.
Michigan teen will now be able to mention God in valedictorian speech thanks to law firm https://t.co/aWIzSuEBiZ pic.twitter.com/QeC6cOdKFr
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) May 30, 2021
Christians Engaged says that, among other things, it offers nonpartisan religious and civic education including encouraging its followers to vote in every election “to impact our culture.”
Recall that the late Andrew Breitbart popularized the phrase “politics is downstream from culture.”
According to Christians Engaged founder Bunni Pounds, “We just want to encourage more people to vote and participate in the political process. How can anyone be against that?”
As part of a 13-page response, First Liberty outlined the ways that the IRS allegedly misinterpreted the relevant law and regulations in this matter and that Christians Engaged’s activities are permissible.
“By finding that Christians Engaged does not meet the operational test, Director Martin errs in three ways: 1) he invents a nonexistent requirement that exempt organizations be neutral on public policy issues; 2) he incorrectly concludes that Christians Engaged primarily serves private, nonexempt purposes rather than public, exempt purposes because he thinks its beliefs overlap with the Republican Party’s policy positions; and 3) he violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech, and Free Exercise, and Establishment clauses by engaging in both viewpoint discrimination and religious discrimination,” First Liberty explained, in part.
Although it may not necessarily apply in this particular case, the controversy evokes memories of how the IRS tried to hamstring conservative groups that applied for nonprofit status during the Obama administration.
Granting nonprofit status is generally routine, except when it isn’t, especially if politics looms large. It remains to be seen if the IRS ruling will hold up.
“The IRS states in an official letter that Biblical values are exclusively Republican. That might be news to President Biden, who is often described as basing his political ideology on his religious beliefs,” Lea Patterson, counsel for First Liberty Institute, said in assailing the “politicized” tax agency.
Christians Engaged originally applied for tax-exempt status in late 2019, so this matter has been lingering in the bureaucracy for quite some time.
Watch a discussion of this controversy on “Fox & Friends” in which the principals suggest that such an IRS precedent could have a chilling effect on religious organizations and possibly churches throughout the country.
(Video: Fox News)
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