A pro-life group is demanding more information about a deal the IRS has struck with an atheist group to monitor the content of sermons.
The next time your pastor delivers a pro-life sermon or urges the congregation to stand up for pro-life values in the political or public arena, he could be taken to task by the IRS.
Last month, the pro-life legal group Alliance Defending Freedom asked the Internal Revenue Service Tuesday to release all documents related to its recent decision to settle a lawsuit with an atheist group that claims the IRS has adopted new protocols and procedures for the investigation of churches.
ADF submitted the Freedom of Information Act request after learning of the IRS’s agreement with Freedom From Religion Foundation in a press release the group issued on July 17 concerning its lawsuit Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Koskinen, which accused the agency of failing to investigate churches the way the atheist group would like.
The IRS claims it is temporarily withholding investigations of all tax-exempt entities because of congressional scrutiny of its recent scandals, but no one knows when it will decide to restart investigations based on any new or modified rules that it develops.
Now, the pro-life group Faith and Freedom Coalition is demanding release of a secret legal agreement between the IRS and an atheist group about censoring the content of sermons and other messages heard in houses of worship by challenging their tax-exempt status.
The agreement followed the voluntary dismissal of a 2012 lawsuit filed in federal court by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit atheist organization that advocates strict separation of church and state.
The suit attempted to force the Internal Revenue Service to question the tax-exempt status of churches and other houses of worship when priests, pastors, rabbis and other clergy preach in a way that has “political implications.
The agreement reached July 17 between the atheist group and the IRS has not been made public. Nor has the IRS stated what new protocols or provisions it agreed to follow in enforcing the tax code.
Causing alarm among Christian organizations such as the Faith and Freedom Coalition was a statement released by Freedom From Religion Foundation’s president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, calling the group’s settlement with the IRS a “victory.” Gaylor wrote:
This is a victory, and we’re pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions.
Adding teeth to the agreement, Gaylor added, her group “could refile the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.”
Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said:
Given the history of the IRS in harassing, persecuting and infringing on the First Amendment rights of Christians and other people of faith, this is a deeply disturbing development. For the Christian community to be targeted for increased enforcement power and the threat of loss of tax-exempt status by this scandal-plagued agency defies logic, common sense, and any sound legal basis.
“Secrecy breeds mistrust, and the IRS should know this in light of its recent scandals involving the investigation of conservative groups,” said ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “We are asking the IRS to disclose the new protocols and procedures it apparently adopted for determining whether to investigate churches. What it intends to do to churches must be brought into the light of day.”