On Friday, I and several others, including Rep. Chip Roy (TX) and Senator Marco Rubio wrote to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig expressing extreme concern at the IRS’ recent denial of the tax-exempt status of Christians Engaged, a nonpartisan, faith-based civic engagement organization in Garland, Texas. Christians Engaged is a non-profit whose mission is to pray, vote and engage on spiritual issues while promoting their values politically.
Our letter calls for –
- An objective analysis of applications for tax-exempt status without outside influence or political bias
- An immediate review of the application Christians Engaged submitted requesting tax-exempt status
- The termination of the IRS staff involved in the reasoning behind the denial
In May, the IRS justified their denial on the basis that Christians Engaged instructs their members “in what the Bible says” on partisan issues including “the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage and biblical justice.” The IRS concluded that these issues are most closely related to the Republican party, precluding Christians Engaged from exemption. However, these issues have long been held as core values within the Christian faith. Classifying them as inherently political is a violation of the organization’s First Amendment rights and minimizes the beliefs and work of thousands of churches and individuals who express their faith through action within their communities and beyond. Further, IRS does not currently require organizations involved in educational activity related to public policy to maintain a neutral platform in their practices. Few things are as intimidating as having a problem with the IRS. During the Obama Administration we became aware of situations in which the IRS targeted conservative groups for increased scrutiny and forced these organizations to go through a political gauntlet to receive or maintain their nonprofit status.
While this is an individual case, allowing this absurd interpretation may have future implications for churches or faith-based organizations seeking protection under the First Amendment. The trampling of these freedoms in other states and cities and by liberal leaders is very troubling. Congress and federal departments and agencies must ensure that no practice, procedure or law curtails the rights protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or marginalizes an individual or organization seeking to exercise these rights.
Congressman Daniel Webster represents The Villages in the U.S. House of Representatives.