PRESS RELEASES in reverse chronological order...

Faith & Freedom Coalition

For Immediate Release               Contact: Joy Creasman
August 11, 2014

Faith & Freedom Coalition Demands Release of Secret IRS Agreement Threatening Rights of Churches and Christians

Reed Objects to “Increased Enforcement by Scandal-Plagued Agency”

(Duluth, GA)  Faith & Freedom Coalition today demanded the release of a secret legal agreement between the Internal Revenue Service and a radical atheist organization that portends increased scrutiny and harassment of churches and Christians, potentially infringing upon their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association.
The legal agreement, reached by the IRS and the Justice Department to settle a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2012, was trumpeted by that organization as a victory in its ongoing effort to monitor and prosecute churches.  The settlement, reached on July 17 in federal court, has not been released to the public.  Nor has the IRS stated what protocols or provisions it agreed to in order to enhance its tax enforcement of churches.  
“Given the history of the IRS in harassing, persecuting and infringing on the First Amendment rights of Christians and other people of faith, this is a deeply disturbing development,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of Faith & Freedom Coalition.  “For the Christian community to be targeted for increased enforcement power and the threat of loss of tax-exempt status by this scandal-plagued agency defies logic, common sense, and any sound legal basis.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt last week also sent letters to the IRS and DOJ seeking copies of the legal agreement, correspondence between the government and the Freedom From Religious Foundation, and other internal documents.  Other state Attorneys General have raised similar concerns.
Faith & Freedom undertook a grassroots campaign earlier this year that generated over 71,000 public comments by its members and activists opposing proposed IRS regulations restricting the voter education activities of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations.  The IRS temporarily withdrew the regulations after being deluged by a record number of opposing comments, including organizations as diverse as the NAACP and the ACLU. 
Faith & Freedom Coalition has over 925,000 members and supporters in all 50 states.  FFC advances sound public policy to strengthen the family and marriage, protect innocent life, reduce the tax burden on middle-class families, and lift up the poor and marginalized.
Freedom from Religion Foundation
August 7, 2014

FAQ on FFRF’s settlement with the IRS over electioneering by religious organizations

Over the last few weeks, there have been numerous media outlets and news organizations reporting misleading and factually inaccurate information about FFRF’s joint dismissal of the FFRF v. Koskinen lawsuit. FFRF would like to set the record straight.

What was FFRF’s lawsuit about and what happened?

FFRF sued the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in late 2012 to compel it to enforce its own regulations barring tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in partisan political activity.  FFRF had reason to believe that the IRS was not enforcing these regulations against churches or other religious organizations.In fact, a theocratic legal society, the Alliance Defending Freedom, is the chief sponsor and promulgator of “Pulpit Freedom Sundays,” in which it urges churches to openly flout the law and endorse from the pulpit. Many such churches have directly “turned themselves in” to the IRS to test the law.

In July 2014, FFRF agreed to voluntary dismissal of its case because recent clarifications by the IRS have remedied its concerns. FFRF is satisfied that the IRS does not at this time have a policy specific to churches of non-enforcement of its anti-electioneering provisions.

Doesn’t this mean the IRS is targeting conservative churches?

No.There is no change in federal law or IRS regulations; rather, the tax code is being enforced evenhandedly. There will be no impact or effect on any law-abiding 501(c)(3) groups, including churches. All that the IRS intends to do now is to follow an already existing objective process for enforcing electioneering restrictions in a way that ensures no nefarious targeting of any organization occurs. 

Does this settlement prevent pastors from commenting on social issues, such as same-sex marriages, abortion, contraceptive coverage, etc.?

No. FFRF specifically challenged the IRS’s purported policy of “non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions” as to churches and religious organizations.  Section 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code prohibits all nonprofits — including churches and other religious organizations, and FFRF — from intervening in political campaigns as a condition of their tax-exempt status. This means these organizations are strictly prohibited from participating or intervening, directly or indirectly, in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elected public office.

Is FFRF targeting conservative churches because it disagrees with their political views on social issues?

No. Some news organizations and commentators have stated that FFRF is “targeting” conservative churches. This is simply untrue. Since 2006, FFRF has sent more than 50 letters to the IRS. asking for investigations into situations in which FFRF believes the tax code was violated. FFRF has acted on complaints from the public, who believe the law is being violated. FFRF letters to the IRS. about possible violations are made without regard to political affiliation or allegiance. For instance, in the 2012 election, FFRF sent a letter to the IRS regarding a pastor at a church in North Carolina who urged his congregation during worship services to vote for President Obama.

Furthermore, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, FFRF cannot take any partisan action. FFRF aligns itself with no political party.

Did FFRF withdraw the case because the IRS. agreed to “monitor” specific churches?

FFRF did not withdraw its suit pursuant to any agreement to “monitor” sermons and homilies for proscribed speech with which FFRF disagrees. As the court documents state, FFRF withdrew the case because it “is satisfied that the IRS does not have a policy at this time of non-enforcement specific to churches and religious institutions.” 

Is FFRF “out to suppress free speech rights”?

No. As a defender of the First Amendment, FFRF respects the free speech rights of any individual or organization. Tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations are afforded a special privilege in our country. If an organization chooses to be tax-exempt under 501(c)(3), it forfeits the right to engage in political campaign intervention. Churches and other religious organizations are free to engage in electioneering if they so choose, but they cannot abuse their tax-exempt privilege and remain tax-exempt.

Doesn’t a dismissal mean losing a case?

No. When parties settle a case, the case must be removed from the court’s docket. The dismissal is a procedure for doing so. FFRF’s case was dismissed “without prejudice” meaning FFRF can refile if the IRS fails to enforce the law. 

— Written by FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
August 1, 2014

Militant Atheists Sound Retreat; Give Up on Forcing IRS to Censor Sermons

Freedom From Religion Foundation runs away from own lawsuit after Becket Fund gets involved

Washington, D.C. – Today, a federal judge in Wisconsin dismissed the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) attempt to use the IRS as a weapon to censor houses of worship who preach on moral issues that have political implications.

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. FFRF had relied on the so-called Johnson Amendment, a law that politicians use to restrict what some private groups can say about them, and which—by an accident of history—caught houses of worship in its web when it was passed 60 years ago.

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.”

FFRF filed the lawsuit in an attempt to force the IRS to enforce the ban, something the IRS has for decades been reluctant to do. The Becket Fund successfully intervened in the suit on behalf of Milwaukee-based Holy Cross Anglican Church and its vicar, Father Patrick Malone, a Benedictine abbot. The Church argued that FFRF’s suit must fail because enforcing the Johnson Amendment against its internal religious speech would violate federal constitutional and statutory law.

“The IRS has long threatened churches with speech restrictions, but hasn’t been willing to do much more for fear of losing in court. But FFRF’s suit, which tried to force the IRS to make good on its threats, gave houses of worship a chance to fight back. Once FFRF realized its error, it packed up shop quickly,” Blomberg said,“It’s remarkable to see the collusive way that FFRF and the IRS orchestrated getting out of this suit as fast as they could. From hiding documents to falsely promising to provide information, they did whatever they could to run away quickly.”

Father Malone is one of thousands of religious leaders across the country who could face severe penalties for faithfully preaching their moral convictions to their congregations. The IRS’s rules reserve the power to revoke a house of worship’s tax-exempt status, and levy fines against churches and individual leaders, when religious leaders are deemed to say things that the IRS does not allow.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. For 19 years its attorneys have been recognized as experts in the field of church-state law. The Becket Fund recently won a 9-0 Supreme Court victory in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”

Freedom from Religion Foundation
July 31, 2014

FFRF, IRS poised to settle church politicking suit

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Internal Revenue Service are poised to resolve FFRF’s closely-watched federal lawsuit challenging the IRS’s non-enforcement of anti-electioneering restrictions by tax-exempt churches. The expected settlement would be a major coup for FFRF, a state/church watchdog and the nation’s largest freethought association, now topping 21,000 members. 

FFRF and the IRS filed an agreement on July 17 to dismiss the lawsuit voluntarily, following communications from the IRS that it no longer has a policy of non-enforcement against churches. The settlement would allow FFRF to voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit “without prejudice,” meaning FFRF can renew the lawsuit if the IRS reverts to its previous inaction. As of press time, District Judge Lynn S. Adelman, of Milwaukee, had not yet ruled on the agreement. 

However, the agreement is being disputed by an obscure Milwaukee-area church, Holy Cross Anglican Church, which is intervening in the case and is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. 

“We’re proud that FFRF’s litigation should ensure that the IRS will now resume enforcing the law, and go after churches which abuse their tax-exempt privilege by attempting to illegally influence the outcome of elections. Otherwise, churches will become unaccountable PACs, congregations could turn into political wards, and donations to the collection box could be used for political purposes. FFRF’s litigation will help safeguard our democratic election process,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. 
FFRF filed suit against the IRS shortly after the presidential election in 2012, based on the agency’s reported moratorium on enforcing the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations. No 501(c)(3) entity, including churches, may retain tax-exemption if it endorses political candidates. 

Yet the IRS had no procedure in place to initiate churches examinations, after a Minnesota district court invalidated the IRS’ prior procedure in 2009. Church groups began to notoriously and openly engage in politicking from the pulpit, including at annual organized events to flout the law known as “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” An IRS official publicly reported in 2012 that the IRS had an on-going moratorium on making church tax examinations, in spite of flagrant and public electioneering by churches and religious organizations. 

On June 16, a year and a half after first filing suit, FFRF received its first information from the IRS indicating it no longer has a policy of non-enforcement against churches. FFRF’s counsel, Richard L. Bolton, also discussed the policy with the Department of Justice, and on June 27, FFRF was apprised that the IRS has a procedure in place for “signature authority” to initiate church tax investigations or examinations. 

Complicating the practical effect for now of the settlement is the global moratorium currently in place on IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities, church or otherwise, while Congress conducts its probe on IRS tea party policies. 

The intervening church filed a motion insisting: “FFRF should not be in a position to drop this lawsuit and file an identical lawsuit (and again put the Church’s interests in jeopardy) a week, a month, or a year in the future.” The Becket Fund has asked the federal court to dismiss the suit “with prejudice,” so that FFRF could not renew its challenge if the IRS reverts to taking no action on violative churches. 

On July 29, FFRF filed a response making it clear FFRF will only dismiss voluntarily if “our agreement has teeth,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, “to ensure that we can resume the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.” 

Alliance Defending Freedom, which is the force behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and which has proclaimed Oct. 5 Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year, also got into the act, filing a Freedom of Information Act request after learning of the July 17 agreement, insinuating that the IRS was withholding information. 

Contrary to the intervenor’s contention, “there is nothing strange, collusive, or concealed here,” noted the IRS in a July 22 motion filed with the court.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

Freedom from Religion Foundation
July 17, 2014

FFRF, IRS settle suit over church politicking

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Internal Revenue Service reached an agreement today (July 17) that resolves for the time being an ongoing federal lawsuit over non-enforcement of restrictions on political activity by tax-exempt religious organizations and churches. 

“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.” 

FFRF filed suit against the IRS shortly after the presidential election in 2012, based on the agency’s reported enforcement moratorium, as evidenced by open and notorious politicking by churches. Pulpit Freedom Sunday, in fact, has become an annual occasion for churches to violate the law with impunity. The IRS, meanwhile, admittedly was not enforcing the restrictions against churches. A prior lawsuit in 2009 required the IRS to designate an appropriate high-ranking official to initiate church tax examinations, but it had apparently failed to do so. 

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. 

In addition to FFRF’s lawsuit, IRS enforcement procedures with respect to political activity by tax-exempt organizations have been the subject of intense scrutiny by Congress. As a result, the IRS is reviewing and implementing safeguards to ensure evenhanded enforcement across the board with respect to all tax exempt organizations. 

Until that process is completed, the IRS has suspended all examinations of tax-exempt organizations for alleged political activities. The current suspension, however, is not limited to church tax inquiries. 

Until the IRS has satisfied congressional overseers that objective procedures are firmly in place with regard to political activities by all tax-exempt organizations, the judge in FFRF’s pending suit would not currently be able to order any immediate or effective relief. 

As a result, FFRF has reached a point where no further immediate changes realistically can be accomplished through continued litigation. The dismissal of the pending action, however, is expected to be without prejudice, which means that further legal action by FFRF to enforce anti-electioneering provisions is not precluded in the future if necessary.

Freedom from Religion Foundation
November 14, 2012

FFRF sues IRS to enforce church electioneering ban

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking the Internal Revenue Service to court over its failure to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations, calling it a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and of FFRF’s equal protection rights. FFRF filed the lawsuit today in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. (View the lawsuit here.) 

A widely circulated Bloomberg news article quoted Russell Renwicks, with the IRS’ Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division, saying the IRS has suspended tax audits of churches. Other sources claim the IRS hasn’t been auditing churches since 2009. (See AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll’s story, “IRS Not Enforcing Rules on Churches and Politics.”) Although an IRS spokesman claimed Renwicks “misspoke,” there appears to be no evidence of IRS inquiries or action in the past three years.

As many as 1,500 clergy reportedly violated the electioneering restrictions on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, notes FFRF’s legal complaint. The complaint also references “blatantly political” full-page ads running in the three Sundays leading up to the presidential elections by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.

FFRF, a state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., is asking the the federal court to enjoin IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman from continuing “a policy of non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.”

Additionally, FFRF seeks to order Shulman “to authorize a high-ranking official within the IRS to approve and initiate enforcement of the restrictions of §501(c)(3) against churches and religious organizations, including the electioneering restrictions, as required by law.”

FFRF has more than 19,000 members nationwide “who are opposed to government preferences and favoritism toward religion.” FFRF is regularly contacted by its members and members of the public over specific and general violations of church electioneering restrictions, and FFRF staff attorneys regularly ask the IRS to investigate such violations.

This non-enforcement “constitutes preferential treatment to churches and religious organizations that is not provided to other tax-exempt organizations, including FFRF,” the complaint notes. “Churches and religious organizations obtain a significant benefit as a result of being non-exempt from income taxation, while also being able to preferentially engage in electioneering, which is something secular tax-exempt organizations cannot do.”

This preferential tax exemption involves more than $100 billion annually in tax-free contributions to churches and religious organizations in the United States.

In addition to reporting the Graham ministry’s electioneering to the IRS, FFRF has sent letters of complaint to the IRS involving 27 other such violations so far this year. Recent complaints include:

• Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken, who wrote an article on diocesan letterhead inserted in all parish bulletins about voting and choosing the president and other offices. Ricken warned that if Catholics vote for a party or candidate who supports abortion rights or marriage equality, “you could be morally ‘complicit’ with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.” (Read full FFRF letter to IRS.)

• Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, who, in an April homily, sharply criticized President Obama, referencing the 2012 presidential election, saying Obama was “following a similar path” as Hitler and Stalin. Jenky said “every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences. . .” (Read full FFRF letter to IRS.)

• Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., who wrote a Nov. 1 article, “Official guidelines for forming a Catholic conscience in the Diocese of Madison,” published in the Catholic Herald, spelling out “non-negotiable” political areas. “No Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for ‘pro-choice’ candidates [or] . . . for candidates who promote ‘same-sex marriage.’ ” (Read full FFRF letter to IRS.)

The lawsuit, FFRF v. IRS, (12-cv-818), was filed by attorney Richard L. Bolton on behalf of FFRF. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge William Conley.

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