Officials with the Internal Revenue Service have backtracked on their claims that a Texas organization wasn’t qualified for a tax-exempt status because the Christian ideas it pursues are associated with the Republican Party.
The dispute involved a group called Christians Engaged, and Stephen A. Martin, chief of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, at first denied its application for tax-exempt status – which routinely is given to charitable, religious, educational or scientific organizations, because he claimed it “engage[s] in prohibited political campaign intervention” and that it “operate[s] for a substantial non-exempt private purpose and for the private interests of the [Republican] party.”
Several members of Congress instructed the Treasury Department’s inspector general to look into the decision when the controversy arose.
First Liberty, which worked on behalf of Christians Engages, said the IRS has reversed itself, and now has granted the requested status to the group, which has as its goal to educate and empower Christians “to pray for our nation and elected officials, vote, and be civically engaged.”
“This is truly great news for our client, as well as religious organizations and churches across America,” said Lea Patterson, counsel for First Liberty Institute. “We are grateful the IRS changed course to bring its decision into line with the Constitution and its own regulations.”
Christians Engaged President Bunni Pounds explained members are looking forward to “continuing our mission of educating more followers of Jesus to pray for our nation and to be civically engaged. When we stand up, our republic works for all Americans.”
The manipulation of IRS designations for various conservative, Christian and tea party style groups dates back to the Barack Obama administration, when federal agents badgered faith organizations that wanted to operate with unreasonable requests for details, including personal information about participants.
The tactic was to simply delay, delay, delay, so they could not operate during the 2012 presidential election, during which issues of faith were at hand.
In the most recent case, Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, James Comer, R-Ky., and Mike Johnson, R-La., wrote to the agency’s inspector general for tax administration demanding a review.
“On May 18, 2021, Stephen Martin, Lois Lerner’s successor as Director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, denied a religious group called Christians Engaged 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code exempts from federal taxation groups that are ‘organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or education purposes’ that do not participate or intervene in a political campaign. Martin explained that ‘bible (sic) teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates. This disqualifies you from exemption under [Internal Revenue Code] 501(c)(3),'” the members wrote.
“Christians Engaged is a Christian organization that seeks ‘to awaken, motivate, and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ to: pray for our nation regularly, vote in every election to impact our culture, [and] engage our hearts in some form of political education or activism for the furtherance of our nation.’ The organization engages with the public on public policy issues through the lens of the Bible’s teachings and sincerely held religious beliefs,” they said.
They continued, “The IRS’s denial of tax-exempt status to Christians Engaged on the assumption that bible (sic) teaching is an activity ‘typically’ associated with Republicans is wrong and outrageous.
“We must ensure the IRS is not reverting back to its targeting of conservative tax-exempt groups. Government agencies that work for the American public should not be in the business of violating citizens’ constitutional rights. The Committee on the Judiciary has jurisdiction over civil liberties under House Rule X. The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the principal oversight committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and has broad authority to investigate ‘any matter’ at ‘any time’ under House Rule X. Therefore, we urge you to immediately review the IRS’s denial of tax-exempt status to Christians Engaged and whether the IRS has denied similarly situated applicants on the basis of constitutionally protected speech.”
The IRS rejection letter, in fact, had claimed, “You educate Christians on what the bible (sic) says in areas where they can be instrumental including the areas of sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and borders and immigration, U.S. and Israel relations. The bible (sic) teachings are typically affiliated with the D party and candidates.”
Martin’s letter explains that when he refers to the “D” party he is referring to the Republican party.
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