A Christian group is fighting back after a bureaucrat’s contention that the Bible is only affiliated with Republican Party positions led him to reject its application for tax-exempt status.
The Internal Revenue Service rejected an application from Christians Engaged, claiming that the organization’s goal of providing a biblical framework from which to view hot-button issues amounted to “prohibited political campaign intervention,” and that the group was serving the “private interests” of the Republican Party.
But the group, along with the First Liberty Institute, is not taking that rejection lying down. First Liberty has filed a response claiming that the IRS erred in its decision.
“The IRS states in an official letter that Biblical values are exclusively Republican. That might be news to President [Joe] Biden, who is often described as basing his political ideology on his religious beliefs,” said Lea Patterson, a counsel for the First Liberty Institute, according to a news release on the organization’s website.
“Only a politicized IRS could see Americans who pray for their nation, vote in every election, and work to engage others in the political process as a threat. The IRS violated its own regulations in denying tax exempt status because Christians Engaged teaches Biblical values,” Patterson said.
Christians Engaged President Bunni Pounds said the group — which provides prayer meetings and Bible study, as well as information on applying Christian values to the modern world — seeks to minister to and educate Christians so they can have a Bible-informed perspective and participate in the nation’s governing.
“We just want to encourage more people to vote and participate in the political process. How can anyone be against that?” Pounds said.
The Texas-based group incorporated in 2019 for “charitable, religious, educational, or scientific purposes.” It applied for tax-exempt status that same year, and just received its rejection letter in May.
In its appeal, First Liberty noted that IRS Exempt Organizations Director Stephen A. Martin objected toward Christians Engaged based on its positions, including “the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and [sic] borders and immigration, [and] U.S. and Israel relations.”
First Liberty said Martin got it wrong.
“By Director Martin’s reasoning, any church that teaches these commonly-held religious beliefs and encourages its parishioners to fulfill their civic duty to vote would violate the restrictions on campaign intervention, because the IRS views the religious beliefs as overlapping with a particular party’s positions,” the letter appealing the ruling stated.
Martin’s view that the Bible aligns with only Republican positions “constitutes an impermissible governmental interpretation of religious doctrine and one with which Christians Engaged strongly disagrees,” First Liberty noted.
“Christians Engaged believes that the Bible is for persons of any political party and that conscientious Christians may support different public policy proposals and candidates. Indeed, President Biden, who is not a member of the Republican Party, quoted the Bible as recently as last month, saying in his remarks at the 153rd National Memorial Day Observance,” the organization said.
The letter added that the rejection proves that the “IRS is discriminating against Christians Engaged’s religious viewpoint. Indeed, the IRS has an enduring track record of discriminating against conservative organizations’ applications for 501(c)(3) status.”
First Liberty said there is a difference between issue advocacy and campaign involvement.
“While exempt organizations must maintain neutrality with respect to political campaigns, they do not have to maintain strict neutrality on controversial public policy issues,” the organization wrote.
“[I]f exempt organizations may only articulate public policy positions on issues as to which no political party or candidate has an opinion, then the regulations recognizing that exempt organizations may advocate positions on public policy issues have no meaning.”
“Denying tax exempt status for Christians Engaged while recognizing the exempt status of other organizations who encourage civic engagement from different viewpoints demonstrates the IRS’s impermissible viewpoint discrimination,” First Liberty said.
In summation, the organization said, the IRS needs to reverse its position.
“By finding that Christians Engaged does not meet the operational test, Director Martin errs in three ways,” First Liberty said in its news release.
“1) he invents a nonexistent requirement that exempt organizations be neutral on public policy issues; 2) he incorrectly concludes that Christians Engaged primarily serves private, nonexempt purposes rather than public, exempt purposes because he thinks its beliefs overlap with the Republican Party’s policy positions; and 3) he violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech, and Free Exercise, and Establishment clauses by engaging in both viewpoint discrimination and religious discrimination.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.