The Internal Revenue Service has told members of the Coalition for Life of Iowa they would have to give up their 1st Amendment rights in order to be recognized as a non-profit organization, according to a complaint being pursued by members of the Thomas More Society.
The organization incorporated in 2004 as a not-for-profit under Iowa law and has been operating strictly within the guidelines for groups set up for religious, educational and charitable purposes, a letter sent to the IRS last week said.
“As detailed in its … narrative, the Coalition for Life carries out its tax-exempt work by sponsoring educational forums and coordinating with other like-minded groups to educate the public and otherwise promote sanctity of life principles,” the letter continues.
“The Coalition is aware that from time to time, individuals who may or may not be involved with the Coalition gather for prayer outside of a Planned Parenthood facility. These gatherings are consistently small (ten or fewer people), peaceful, not in any way disrupting, and consist solely of silent and spoken prayers,” the lawyer wrote.
However, an IRS agent then contacted the Coalition, through its president Susan Martinek, demanding to know whether the group “engaged in any ‘picketing’ or ‘protest’ activities at Planned Parenthood. … You then asked Ms. Martinek to have all Coalition Board members sign a statement that the Coalition will not ‘picket’ or ‘protest’ outside of Planned Parenthood or similar organizations and will not ‘organize’ others to do so,” the law firm’s letter said.
Concerned over the sudden restrictions on free speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion rights, the Coalition contact legal counsel, and attorney Sally Wagenmaker said she contacted the IRS about the issue.
“You expressed the legally erroneous view that the Coalition is not allowed per se to engage in ‘advocacy’ as a section 501(c)(3) organization,” the attorney said.
“The IRS’ requests come perilously close to violating the First Amendment constitutional rights of the Coalition’s supporters, and they are not otherwise germane to the Coalition for Life’s pending … application. As you acknowledged verbally to me over the telephone, the Coalition’s application is now ripe for approval. The IRS’ delay and questioning … constitutes unnecessary and prejudicial interference with the Coalition’s legal right to a tax-exempt determination.”
“This is the way government oppression creeps into a society,” said Judie Brown, president of American Life League. “It starts when the government targets, and attempts to intimidate and silence the grass-roots dissenters who will not dance to the tune of the Obama administration’s radically pro-abortion policies.”
“This is not only political intimidation by the Internal Revenue Service but it is a blatant violation of First Amendment rights,” Brown said. “Neither the Coalition for Life of Iowa nor any other educational and advocacy organization should be subjected to such discriminatory scrutiny. This is a clear case of government repression.”