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IRS Is Sued For Investigating Churches

Church and state are supposed to be separate, so how come the IRS gets to decide what is religious and what is not? And why is the IRS investigating churches and other religious organizations? Is the IRS threatening churches on behalf of anti-religious crusaders? To get some answers, Judicial Watch has sued on behalf of the Alliance Defending Freedom for the release of documents regarding the IRS decision to reevaluate criteria for determining whether churches and other nonprofits can claim tax-exempt status. See Alliance Defending Freedom v. Internal Revenue Service (No. 1:15-cv-00525)).

Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit after the IRS failed to comply with a request by the Alliance Defending Freedom seeking:

  • All documents related to any existing, proposed, new, or adopted procedures for church tax inquiries or examinations from January 2009 to the present.
  • All documents related to proposed or adopted changes to Treasury Regulations §301.7611-1 from January 2009 to the present.
  • All documents related to new IRS policies or procedures referenced in a Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) July 17, 2014 press release.

The IRS had promised (threatened?) to begin looking into specific churches and other groups, and to reevaluate IRS’ criteria. The IRS isn’t anxious to produce records, so Judicial Watch filed suit with some zingers:

"As of the date of this complaint, Defendant has failed to: (i) determine whether to comply with the request; (ii) notify Plaintiff of any such determination or the reasons therefor; (iii) advise Plaintiff of the right to appeal any adverse determination; and/or (iv) produce the requested records or otherwise demonstrate that the requested records are exempt from production."

Judicial Watch already sued for related documents last year. In 2012, the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed suit alleging that the IRS had routinely ignored its complaints about churches promoting political candidates, issues or proposed legislation. In its complaint, it alleged that 1,500 clergy members violated electioneering restrictions on Sunday, October 7, 2012.  The atheist group cited church teachings against abortion and same-sex marriage as being in violation of the law. It also cited what it termed “blatantly political” full-page ads running in the three Sundays leading up to the presidential elections by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.

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