The Internal Revenue Service denied a Christian nonprofit group tax-exempt status because the Bible’s “teachings are typically affiliated with” the GOP and its candidates.
“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,” read a letter from IRS Exempt Organizations Director Stephen Martin to Christians Engaged, a nonprofit group seeking tax-exempt status. “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, which bills itself as educational, Christian, and nonpartisan, says its goal 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 group promises to teach Christians how to “civically engage as part of their religious practice” but makes clear that it does not promote a specific party or candidate.
But the IRS pointed to the group’s leadership, which has members that have been heavily involved in Republican political activities in previous years. The rejection letter also accuses the organization of engaging in “prohibited political campaign intervention” and operating “for a substantial non-exempt private purpose and for the private interests of the [Republican] party.”
The First Liberty Institute, which is representing Christians Engaged, responded by sending an appeal letter to the IRS claiming that Martin mischaracterized the organization while violating its First Amendment rights.
“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,” the appeal reads.
Lea Patterson, who serves as counsel with First Liberty Institute, argued that the IRS could use the same justification to shut down any number of Christian nonprofit groups currently active in the country.
“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 said in an interview with Breitbart News on Saturday.
Patterson further pointed out that the IRS has allowed tax-exempt status for other similar organizations in the past, including a nonprofit group started by former first lady Michelle Obama called When We All Vote.
“To change the culture around voting and to increase participation in each and every election by helping to close the race and age gap. Created by Michelle Obama, When We All Vote brings 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. We empower our supporters and volunteers to take action through voting, advocating for their rights, and holding their elected officials accountable,” reads that group’s mission statement.
“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 said in the appeal letter.
Patterson also argued the IRS was breaking protocol by assuming a Bible-centered group is aligned with Republicans, pointing to President Joe Biden’s Catholic beliefs as an example of biblical teachings holding weight in the Democratic 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,” Patterson said.
Patterson said that the hope is the IRS will grant the appeal and allow Christians Engaged to operate as tax-exempt but promised the group was prepared to take the fight to federal court if forced to do so.
“Our client’s hope is that they get approved and recognized as a 501(c)(3),” Patterson said.
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