In 2012, 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. Part of the problem was that there was a vacancy in the position which normally handled those issues.
“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,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“Of course, we have the complication of a moratorium currently in place on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities, church or otherwise, due to the congressional probe of the IRS. FFRF could refile the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.”
The IRS has now resolved the signature authority issue necessary to initiate church examinations. The IRS also has adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations. While the IRS retains “prosecutorial” discretion with regard to any individual case, the IRS no longer has a blanket policy or practice of non-enforcement of political activity restrictions as to churches.
Just to be clear, the IRS said, “Okay, we’ll monitor these churches like we’re supposed to and take action when necessary.” In return, FFRF withdrew its lawsuit voluntarily with the understanding that they could file it again if the IRS didn’t enforce its own policies.
Total victory all around, right?!
Not if you read the Christian publication Charisma, which for some reason is parroting the idea that this is a defeat for FFRF:
After almost two years of litigation, FFRF asked the court to dismiss its own lawsuit once the Becket Fund stepped in to defend the rights of a small Wisconsin church and its pastor…
“This lawsuit was a bad idea from the beginning. Who thinks the IRS should be deciding what a preacher says in a sermon?” said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund.
“Fortunately for the First Amendment, once FFRF encountered an actual opponent they — as Monty Python might say — gallantly chickened out. Today’s win shuts down FFRF’s first-of-its-kind attempt to make the tax man into a sermon-censorship board. Whatever people think about religion or politics, we all can agree that deciding what clergy say to their congregations should be a private religious decision, not one for bureaucrats or militant atheists.”
The “small Wisconsin church” in question was arguing that if the IRS wasn’t going after churches, it was because they had a policy of protecting pastors’ “religious liberty.” But since the IRS said there was no such policy, the FFRF backed off, and the judge allowed them to do so with the possibility of refiling the suit if there were problems in the future.
Oh. And if we’re going with Monty Python references, the Becket Fund sounds more like the Black Knight who gets all of his limbs cut off but still thinks he won the battle:
But this isn’t just a flesh wound. FFRF got exactly what it wanted, and all those pastors participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday stand to lose their churches’ non-profit status if they endorse candidates this year.
There’s no collusion between the IRS and FFRF. No hidden documents, regardless of what the Becket Fund claims. It’s just enforcement of a law that was being ignored for too long.
(Portions of this article were posted earlier. Thanks to Brian for the link)