Yesterday, LifeNews broke the news that an IRS agent was caught on tape telling a pro-life group attempting to obtain nonprofit status that it had to keep its faith views to itself.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a pro-life legal group, made the audio available today of IRS officials telling a group that provides support to women in abusive pregnancy situations to keep its faith to itself. In the recorded phone conversation, an IRS agent lectures the president of the organization about forcing its religion and beliefs on others and inaccurately explains that the group must remain neutral on issues such as abortion.
Now, the lead attorney in the case has given a new interview in which he explains the IRS agent in question was ideologically opposed to the pro-life group’s mission and that the targeting came a result of that rather than the agent’s not understanding laws or IRS rules related to nonprofits.
From the interview with National Review:
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “You have to know your boundaries,” an IRS agent told Ania Joseph of Pro-Life Revolution. How did you interpret that when you first heard it? What are the boundaries of a pro-life group like theirs?
ERIK STANLEY: I interpreted the IRS agent’s statement as attempting to impose an unconstitutional standard for granting tax exemption. The agent had told Pro-Life Revolution on numerous occasions that it could not “confront” other people with the views of the organization and that it had to remain “neutral” on the issue of abortion. That standard is unconstitutional because it prohibits a group from advocating the truth of its beliefs. The IRS should not be in the position of mandating that groups seeking a tax exemption remain neutral on controversial issues. That’s not only unconstitutional, but ridiculously impractical. For example, churches are exempt under the tax code but they do not have to remain “neutral” on the issue of religion.
The only “boundaries” on exempt organizations are those that are in the law, namely, that they serve a charitable function, that they refrain from endorsing or opposing political candidates (an unconstitutional restriction we are attempting to challenge by our Pulpit Freedom Sunday initiative), and that they only engage in an insubstantial amount of lobbying. There is no boundary imposed in the law that an organization not advocate its viewpoint.
LOPEZ: What was most worrisome about what Pro-Life Revolution was told by an IRS agent?
STANLEY: What was most worrisome was that the IRS was imposing an unconstitutional standard on Pro-Life Revolution. It attempted to say that Pro-Life Revolution could not be considered educational for exemption purposes unless it met the “full and fair exposition” standard that requires an exempt organization to present a “full and fair exposition” of the facts to allow a person to make up their own mind on the issue. This standard was held to be unconstitutional by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980. The D.C. Circuit said the standard was unconstitutionally vague and could mask viewpoint discrimination. It was very troubling in this case that the agent in charge of granting or denying the exemption request was using a standard held to be unconstitutional over thirty years ago.
LOPEZ: Could it be that this was just a mislead agent doing what she understood to be her job?
STANLEY: No, I don’t think that could be the case because I pointed out to her in a letter that her standard was unconstitutional. In response to my letter, she doubled down on the standard and even made up an additional standard that is found nowhere in the case law or the IRS regulations. This agent seemed ideologically opposed to the pro-life position and was intent on ensuring that Pro-Life Revolution not be able to advocate its viewpoint on the issue of abortion.
ADF tells LifeNews that, in January 2011, Pro-Life Revolution, which operates from Texas under all three purposes for whcih religious groups can obtain nonprofit status, filed an application for tax-exempt status with the IRS. Four months later, the IRS sent a letter requesting “more information” and an explanation of how the organization’s activities are educational or charitable even though IRS rules specify that an organization need only operate for “one or more” of the three exempt purposes. President of Pro-Life Revolution Ania Joseph nonetheless replied and answered the IRS’s questions.
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ADF indicates Joseph received a call from IRS Exempt Organization Specialist Sherry Wan in March 2012.
Wan told her that, in order to obtain a tax exemption, “You cannot force your religion or force your beliefs on somebody else…. You have to know your boundaries. You have to know your limits. You have to respect other people’s beliefs.”
In February of this year, the IRS requested additional information in another letter and attempted to apply a standard for tax exemption to Pro-Life Revolution that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held to be unconstitutional in 1980. Alliance Defending Freedom pointed this out in a letter responding to the IRS, which finally granted tax-exempt status to the organization in a letter received Thursday.