We get revenge: the FFRF sues the IRS for failure to enforce tax laws on churches

Two days ago I wrote about how the U.S. government has been ignoring political activities by churches and pastors, activities that are illegal under our laws and punishable by revoking the tax benefits of churches. (Churches pay no property taxes and get other benefits as well, such as tax-free housing allowances for pastors.) Apparently it has been the government’s unofficial policy to overlook blatant electioneering by churches. This autumn that electioneering largely took the form of conservative and anti-abortion pastors denouncing Obama from their pulpits and urging parishioners to vote for Republicans.

I’m thus immensely pleased to see that, as reported by Isthmus, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has just filed suit against the tax people (Internal Revenue Service, or IRS) for their indolence on this issue:

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, the lawsuit charges that Douglas Shulman, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, “has violated, continues to violate and will continue to violate in the future, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States by failing to enforce the electioneering restrictions of 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code against churches and religious organizations.”

This section of the tax code prohibits nonprofit organizations and organizations that are exempt from federal income taxes from being involved in political campaigns.

The lawsuit cites “open and notorious violations” of these electioneering restrictions by churches since 2008, including “blatantly partisan full-page ads” from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that ran in papers throughout the country leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

In the ad, Graham urges people to vote “for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says, “Everybody knows what he was talking about: Obama endorsing same-sex marriage.”. . .

The lawsuit also charges that the IRS’s failure to enforce these electioneering laws violates the equal protection rights of other nonprofits barred from engaging in political activity.

“The non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions … against churches and other religious organizations constitutes preferential treatment to churches and religious organizations that is not provided to other tax-exempt organizations, including the FFRF, which are required to comply with the electioneering restrictions…”

The FFRF’s own announcement of the suit is here, and I’ve embedded below the whole lawsuit that they filed.

I’ve been really impressed with the FFRF, headed by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, and now consider it the most effective secular organization in the U.S.  That’s largely because instead of hosting endless ineffectual meetings with the same speakers, or navel-gazing about internal divisiveness, the FFRF actually does something: through scrupulous monitoring of the government and judiciously filing lawsuits, the FFRF fights an endless battle against the brushfires of religious enthusiasm that threaten to incinerate our Constitution.

That’s not to say that other secular organizations are completely ineffectual, though some of them approach that, but simply that the FFRF stands out as the one that best keeps religion at bay. (Remember their anti-Catholic ads in the New York Times?).

We need more lawsuits, not more atheist conventions!

Do consider becoming a member of the FFRF. Membership comes with a great and meaty monthly newspaper, Freethought Today, detailing their legal activities and other fun stuff (e.g., crazy things that the faith-ridden say), and at the same time supports lawsuits like this one. (As Annie Laurie told me, not all of the legal activity is pro bono.)

To join, simply go here and fill in the form along with a contribution of $40. And, to sweeten the deal, put your name below, saying you’ve just joined. I’ll pick one name at random from those who do (and provide proof when asked), and send them an autographed copy of WEIT including a hand-drawn First Amendment Cat. This offer expires Nov. 28 at 5 p.m.; please leave any notice of donations in the thread below rather than by emailing me.

(p.s., for those of you still expecting books from donating to Doctors without Borders, I haven’t forgotten. I have a list of everyone along with their requests [e.g., "draw my turtle!"], and books will be sent out after I return from Scotland Nov. 28.)

h/t: Mark


  1. Posted November 17, 2012 at 4:27 am | Permalink

    Jack Van Impe is a great example of someone doing this. Leading up the election he did a few shows on how Obama is the Anti Christ and future Dictator of the New World Order, etc etc. You can find him on Youtube. He has a fairly large following as well. (Televangelist, has several ministries, and lives in a tax exempt home.)

  2. Joseph
    Posted November 17, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Just signed up for a household membership! Hoping for the book! :) Keep up the good fight FFRF!

  3. Ben
    Posted November 30, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I joined back when you ran this post, but forgot to add my name in the comments until now. I hope I’m not too late!

  4. Dave Ricks
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    This thread reminded me to join the FFRF, which was on my to-do list since I attended the Reason Rally earlier this year, so this week I joined the FFRF at the Afterlife level.

    But I must compare -
    • Churches promoting Mitt Romney for President,
    • AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt promoting Herb Silverman for Senate.

    According to the IRS -

    Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

    I’m still happy I belong to the AHA, but they say they’re a 501(c)(3) organization, which seems inconsistent with promoting Silverman for Senate. For now I’ll just say I cannot in good conscience deduct my AHA membership on my taxes.

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  1. [...] Jerry Coyne announced that the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is suing the US Internal Revenue Service [...]

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