IRS on deal with atheists: No comment

By Bob Unruh

The Internal Revenue Service
The Internal Revenue Service

The Internal Revenue Service has withheld more than 10,000 pages of information requested by an organization looking into its procedures for investigating churches, and another 2,000 pages that were released under a federal Freedom of Information Act case were blacked out.

So the Alliance Defending Freedom is asking a federal court to put the federal collection agency in its place.

“The IRS is not above the law, and Americans deserve to know the truth about the agency’s secret deals with activists,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “The IRS has a legal obligation to explain why it is hiding things or else produce the documents. Its ongoing refusal to follow the law is absurd, particularly since much of we are asking for is information that the IRS has already provided voluntarily to Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

The case arose when it was revealed through the resolution of a lawsuit brought by the Freedom from Religion Foundation that the IRS wasn’t enforcing electioneering restrictions against churches. The case then was dismissed.

At that point, the FFRF claimed the IRS “had put in place ‘protocols to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions’ and had ‘adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations,” ADF said.

So ADF wants to know what the protocols are.

See the truth about the abuses of power and the cover-ups by the IRS, in “UnFair: Exposing the IRS.”

“The existence of the secret procedures became known through the agency’s settlement of an atheist group’s lawsuit,” ADF said, citing the settlement of the case FFRF v. Koskinen.

At the time, “The IRS assured the atheist group that it had adopted new protocols and procedures for church investigations in order to end the lawsuit,” ADF said.

ADF had asked that the federal agency release the information that apparently already had been handed over to FFRF.

Nearly two years later, ADF had received a few thousand pages, of which 2,000 were redacted. Another 10,000 were withheld entirely, ADF said on Friday.

The original lawsuit for the information was filed by Judicial Watch on behalf of ADF, and “now ADF is asking the court to order the IRS to comply with its legal duty to justify the thousands of records withheld or else produce them.”

“The Obama IRS first ignored the ADF FOIA request and is now stonewalling in federal court,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The public has the right to know about any new IRS guidelines for investigating the practice of our basic First Amendment freedoms.”

FFRF boasted of the new IRS plans after the resolution of its own lawsuit. It specifically mentioned ADF’s “Pulpit Freedom” program, and its case asked the IRS to enforce the Johnson Amendment of 1954, which bars tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

ADF said the amendment authorizes the IRS to regulate sermons and “requires churches to give up their constitutionally protected freedom of speech in order to retain their tax-exempt status.”

ADF’s “Pulpit Freedom” program is designed to encourage the IRS to enforce the Johnson Amendment, prompting a court challenge that could result in the amendment being declared unconstitutional..

ADF and Judicial Watch filed the motion to compel Friday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Alliance Defending Freedom v. Internal Revenue Service. Several members of Congress, at least one state attorney general and a number of concerned organizations have also asked the IRS to disclose its settlement with FFRF.

The new filing explains to the court: “The IRS produced thousands of heavily redacted records and kept thousands more behind its administrative veil. Before the parties may even discuss whether those withholdings were proper, the IRS has the obligation to identify the withheld records and explain why they are exempt.”

The brief says the IRS’ “conduct to date is less than forthcoming.”

“Twenty-one months into the FOIA process, ADF is scarcely closer to uncovering the new church audit procedures the IRS claims to have adopted.”

Former Department of Justice Attorney J. Christian Adams said in an earlier interview on Fox News: “The left always goes after religion. They don’t like religion. It’s why the FFRF is trying to convert theology into politics.”

He said the anti-religion groups “want to use the IRS as a weapon against Christianity, against faith.”

They “hate what the conservative wing stands for,” he said. “What they want to do is use the power of government, just like they did against the tea party. It’s the same thing. They want to turn belief in God into a political thing.

“They want to use the IRS to go after people who express faith from the pulpit.”

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Asked the IR Review: “Does the FFRF have a point – are churches too involved in politics? Or is the IRS simply looking for another way to target organizations it doesn’t agree with?”

The secrecy is a concern to ADF, which is asking for “all documents related to any existing, proposed, new, or adopted procedures for church tax inquiries or examinations from January 2009 to the present” and well as documents relating to “regulation 301.7611-1” and those documents “referenced in FFRF’s … press release.”

ADF pointed out that before 1954, “there were no restrictions on what churches could or couldn’t do with regard to speech about government and voting, excepting only a 1934 law preventing nonprofits from using a substantial part of their resources to lobby for legislation.”

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