Back in November, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS because of the government agency’s “failure to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.” Basically, churches were endorsing political candidates from the pulpit and the IRS wasn’t doing anything to stop it.
The IRS tried to quash this lawsuit before it could proceed but FFRF just got some good news: U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman of the Western District of Wisconsin has dismissed the IRS’ motion, allowing FFRF to move forward with their lawsuit!
The biggest concern was “standing” — did FFRF even have the right to sue the IRS? Adelman answered in the affirmative:
If it is true that the IRS has a policy of not enforcing the prohibition on campaigning against religious organizations, then the IRS is conferring a benefit on religious organizations (the ability to participate in political campaigns) that it denies to all other § 501(c)(3) organizations, including the Foundation. As a victim of the IRS’s alleged discrimination, the Foundation has suffered an injury in fact.
Adelman’s point is essentially this: FFRF has a right to sue, so let’s shine some light on the IRS’ practices and find out if their claim has any merit.
The best part of the lawsuit has to be where Adelman smacks down the IRS’ circular argument that the atheists have no proof of any wrongdoing:
What the IRS seems to be saying is that because the Foundation has not already proved that the IRS has a policy of favoring religious organizations, it lacks standing to attempt to prove that such a policy exists. But of course this is wrong. If the Foundation is unable to prove that the IRS has a policy of favoring religious organizations, then its claim will fail on the merits, not for lack of standing.
This challenge couldn’t have come at a better time. Just last week, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability issued a report suggesting that Congress should change the law so that church leaders could endorse candidates from the pulpit.
FFRF’s lawsuit could stop Congress from doing anything of the sort and, more importantly, finally punish those churches who have broken and continue to break the law by endorsing candidates from the pulpit.