The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) denied a Christian non-profit organization tax-exempt status because “the Bible’s teachings are typically affiliated with the Republican Party and candidates.” The group, which is called Christians Engaged, is fighting the decision.
According to its website, the organization “exists to awaken, motivate, educate, and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ to PRAY for our nation and elected officials 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 nations.”
The group offers educational materials and encourages Christians to vote. It holds seminars and classes to show people how to get involved in the political process and provides a forum for people to converse on the issues of the day.
Breitbart News reported:
The non-profit first applied to become a 501 (c)(3) in late 2019. They received a rejection letter on May 18, 2021, from Exempt Organizations Director Stephen A. Martin saying the group “engage[s] in prohibited political campaign intervention” and “operate[s] for a substantial non-exempt private purpose and for the private interests of the [Republican] party.”
Martin laid out his reasons for the rejection in a letter to the organization. In the letter, he argued:
Specifically, you educate Christians on what the Bible 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 teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican Party] and candidates. This disqualifies you from exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3).
The First Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal organization that focuses on religious liberty, is representing Christians Engaged. They sent an appeal letter to the IRS, stating that its decision is a violation of the First Amendment.
“From its religious perspective, Christians Engaged provides nonpartisan religious and civic education, focusing on encouraging and educating Christians to be civically engaged as a part of their religious practice,” according to the First Liberty Institute.
Lea Patterson, the attorney representing Christians Engaged, indicated that this particular decision is not the norm for the IRS and that the agency is discriminating based on religion.
“If the IRS going forward thinks that Bible teaching is Republican-affiliated, then that could endanger the tax-exempt status of many religious organizations — including potentially churches, which obviously teach the Bible with some frequency,” Patterson told Breitbart News.
In its letter, the IRS noted that some of the organization’s leadership is, or had previously been, involved with conservative groups in the past. But a cursory look at the situation shows that these groups are clearly separate and have nothing to do with Christians Engaged.
President Bunni Pounds is a former congressional candidate and political consultant. In a statement, she said: “We just want to encourage more people to vote and participate in the political process. How can anyone be against that?”
In her letter, Patterson noted that the agency has approved 501(c)(3) status for many other groups whose mission is similar to that of Christians Engaged. She brought up Civic Nation, a non-profit started by former First Lady Michelle Obama, which launched an initiative called “When We All Vote.”
Obama’s organization’s mission is: “To change the culture around voting and to increase participation in each and every election by helping to close the race and age gap.” The initiative seeks to bring together “individuals, institutions, brands, and organizations to register new voters across the country and advance civic education for the entire family and voters of every age to build an informed and engaged electorate for today and generations to come.”
“Denying tax-exempt status for Christians Engaged while recognizing the exempt status of other organizations who encourage civic engagement from different viewpoints demonstrates the IRS’s impermissible viewpoint discrimination,” Patterson insisted.
The attorney also pointed out the irony in Martin’s argument that biblical beliefs typically line up with the Republican Party. “The IRS states in an official letter that Biblical values are exclusively Republican. That might be news to President Biden, who is often described as basing his political ideology on his religious beliefs,” she wrote.
The IRS will now go through its internal appeal process, which could take months. But if the agency denies Christians Engaged again, the matter could wind up in federal court.
Most of us are old enough to remember when the IRS under former President Barack Obama was caught discriminating against conservative organizations, denying their tax-exempt applications because of their political affiliations. Is it possible that the agency is starting to discriminate once again because there is a Democrat in the Oval Office?
It’s not beyond the realm of reason. After all, it is highly unlikely that Biden’s Justice Department would crack down on practices that violate the First Amendment, when it affects organizations that might be conservative-leaning. This case might just be the test of such a proposition. If the IRS decides to uphold its decision, it could lead to more legal action, especially if the agency is found to have been discriminating in other cases as well.