IRS lectures pro-life group on acceptable speech, practice of religion.

By the way, and for the record: IRS Agent Sherry Wan is full of… is incorrect in her understanding of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and should be made aware of this at the earliest opportunity.

The transcript is here: it relates a conversation between Pro-Life Revolution’s Ania Joseph and IRS Agent Wan. The agent’s thought processes are perfectly summed up by this part:

Agent (:44 – 1:17) – Yeah, you have the religious freedom; the freedom of speech. And other people also have the civil rights; human rights. You cannot, you know, use your religious belief to tell other people you don’t have a belief, so I don’t believe you need the right to do this, start confrontation, protesting, uh, prot, uh, protest. [unintelligible] You don’t apply for tax exemption.

Crosstalk (1:17 – 1:18)

Agent (1:18 – 1:38) – Nobody will go after you as long as you don’t violate the law. But when you come to apply for tax exemption, you have to keep your action to, you know, exactly what is
educational or religious, you know you [unintelligible].

…and the conversation went pretty much like that for the rest of the call. Essentially, Agent Wan seems to be under the impression that faith-based groups like Pro-Life Revolution don’t deserve tax exempt status if they publicly state their religious opinions: which, as Mary Katharine Ham notes, is “a bit of advice that would be quite interesting to every church in America.” And note that the federal government ostensibly and formally disagrees with Wan’s, ah, critically flawed understanding on free speech rights: Pro-Life Revolution got its tax-exempt status recognized on May 19th of this year. This administration doesn’t actually disagree with the IRS agent, of course. If they actually did then Wan would have been expected to approve PLR back in 2011.

There are three reasons why this grates so.

  1. The idea that the IRS should be responsible for determining appropriate speech and religious sentiment has never, to my knowledge, been put to any kind of national vote or referendum. I understand why it happened, and it’s not actually entirely the IRS’s fault: Congress has a bad habit of mandating various notions, then expecting the agencies to come up with all the messy details. It’s just that we’re now seeing one* major problem with that particular strategy: it can take years to discover a major screw-up.
  2. I am sure that Agent Sherry Wan is personally a very nice woman who is kind to strangers and does not beat her dog. But she is self-evidently not qualified to act as a judge on the Bill of Rights, and how it applies to tax policy. Again: the federal government officially agrees with me on this, so complain to them first. However, for several years her lack of qualifications was not merely a personal problem; it affected others. And that just ain’t right. To mangle the phrase: your right to misunderstand what the Constitution means ends where my right to follow the Constitution begins.
  3. All of this happened a lot.

Democrats need to understand this: it’s one thing for the civil service to be mostly Democrats. It’s quite another for Republicans to – correctly – get it internalized that the civil service has corporately decided to openly act in a partisan Democratic manner. We are a lot less likely to tolerate the latter**.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*Of many.

**This would be the point where various Internet commenters of various political stripes start muttering about how nothing will ever change, never happen, the GOP won’t do anything, yadda yadda. Which is fine – essentially futile, but fine – but bear in mind this: if the typical response of the Internet matched the typical response of the average American, Firefly would have had a seven year run and at least three movies. Possibly an animated series.

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