For more than 100 years, churches and religious organizations have enjoyed tax-exempt status, which was provided under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Revenue Service code for the last five decades. However, a recent decision by the IRS to reject 501(c)(3) tax exempt status for a Christian nonprofit group demonstrates this privilege is far from absolute. This status may, in fact, be subject to increasing scrutiny, especially for organizations with alleged ties to the Republican Party.
According to Fox Business:
The IRS recently rejected the tax-exempt status request for a Texas-based Christian group over its purported ties to the Republican Party.
In a May letter addressed to Christians Engaged, Stephen Martin, the IRS director of exempt organizations, said the group used Bible teachings “typically affiliated with the Republican Party and candidates” to educate individuals on how to vote.
The stated mission of Christians Engaged, the organization in question, is to “awaken, motivate and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ to: pray for our nation and our elected officials regularly, vote in every election to impact our culture and engage our hearts in some forms of political education or activism for the furtherance of our nation.”
The organization claims it is a non-partisan educational institution that merely encourages its supporters to vote for their “biblical values.”
The IRS, however, claims these biblical values are too closely associated with the Republican Party and are therefore political in nature. This is a somewhat curious conclusion considering how outspoken President Biden, a Democrat, has been about his Catholic faith. His speeches, notes NPR, “are woven with references to God, biblical language or the Pope.”
Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also discussed the influence of her Catholic roots in her 2008 memoir, “Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters.”
Nonetheless, to encourage Christians to vote based on biblical values, according to the IRS, is to engage in “prohibited political campaign intervention.”
The letter IRS Exempt Organizations Director Stephen Martin sent to Christians Engaged stated:
“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).”
Christians Engaged is fighting the determination. Represented by the First Liberty Institute, the organization filed a letter of appeal with the IRS, noting the IRS has granted tax-exempt status to similar organizations, including a nonprofit group started by former First Lady Michelle Obama to “help close the race and age gap” in voting. The letter argues:
“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.”
The IRS has a history of paying special attention to conservative, tax-exempt organizations. In 2013, former Obama IRS Commissioner Lois Lerner was forced to apologize for the agency’s decision to target conservative nonprofit organizations for extra scrutiny during the 2012 election to ensure these organizations were complying with the requirements of their tax-exempt status. In 2017, the Trump Administration settled two separate lawsuits—for an undisclosed amount—with conservative organizations claiming the IRS had discriminated against them.
We’ll continue to track this story.