How can it be that the IRS quickly discovers that my husband has mistakenly claimed the wrong number of exemptions on his W2 form, but completely fails to notice over 1,000 evangelical churches ostentatiously defying them in broad daylight? Last October, over 1,000 conservative churches across the US participated in October 7th’s “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” to endorse GOP former Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, and to protest a 1954 Internal Revenue Service regulation banning direct endorsements of political candidates from tax-exempt religious institutions — even though these churches are perfectly free to endorse whomever they want, as long as they stop claiming tax-exempt status.
Folks from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a first amendment (separation of Church and State) advocacy group, have apparently wondered the same thing. Kimberly Winston from The Washington Post reports that FFRF has filed a lawsuit earlier this week with the U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin. The group has over 1800 members and chapters across the US, but filed the case from Madison, WI, where their main office is based. The group opposes “government preferences and favoritism toward religion,” and has filed over 70 first amendment lawsuits since 1977.
According to the FFRF’s November 14th press release, the IRS has not enforced their tax code or audited churches since 2009. Even more alarming, an October 12th article in Bloomberg BNA quotes Russel Renwicks from the IRS’s Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division saying, ““We are holding any potential church audits in abeyance.”
The FFRF’s press release adds:
“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.’”
The FFRF has filed 27 complaints against the IRS this year alone, including a lawsuit back in July over the “World Trade Center Cross” (a crucifix-shaped cross-beam extracted from the World Trade Center rubble after 9/11 and now being incorporated into the National September 11th Memorial and Museum as a relic). They are also vigilant about challenging religious displays in public schools, filed a complaint in October against Kountze High School cheerleaders in Texas for displaying large banners with biblical quotes like, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31), during football games.