IRS targeting goes back decades, houses of worship have been main targets
By Daniel Blomberg, Eric Rassbach
Published June 13, 2013
What most people don’t realize is that the IRS has been acting as the speech police for decades. Ever since 1954, when then-Senator Lyndon Johnson pushed for a law enabling the IRS to punish non-profits who opposed him politically, the IRS has been in the business of government censor. What’s worse is that one of the biggest targets of this censorship has been religious people and houses of worship. In fact, one of the IRS’s first targets in the 1950s was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was subjected to a searching IRS audit because of his religious advocacy for civil rights for African-Americans.
The IRS of course has the crushing power to deny or revoke the non-profit status of a synagogue, church, or mosque if it says something the IRS decides is too “political.” But it can also put houses of worship and other religious organizations through the wringer of intrusive, costly, and time-consuming audits.
There are two ways the targeting works. One way is for an outside group, often one that is anti-religion, to file a complaint asking the IRS to investigate a church they don’t like. The IRS responds to the complaint by opening an investigation and asking the church often hundreds of questions about its activities, with the threat of revocation of non-profit status. This is what lawyers call “selective enforcement” and it is unconstitutional. No one should be singled out in this way, especially because of collusion between the IRS and outside groups with an ax to grind.
The second way the censorship starts is for IRS officials to take their lead from high government officials, including the President, to decide which groups to target for disfavor. This is apparently what happened to the “tea party” groups, but religious groups have also been targeted in this way.
But not do what again? Not preach about moral matters that have a political connection? That would mean that religious issues stop being religious once a politician starts talking about them. More importantly, where does the IRS get the authority to override the First Amendment? If freedom of speech and freedom of religion are to mean anything, government bureaucrats can’t be allowed to decide what rabbis, priests, imams, and pastors can preach.
Religious people can and do disagree over whether pastors, priests, or rabbis should preach about the political issues of the day. That is their right. But surely all Americans can agree – especially after the abuses that have come to light in the past week–that the time for the tax man to censor sermons must come to an end.
The news in the ongoing IRS scandal revelations is not that it’s happening at all. The news is the extent of IRS harassment of specific POVs, and that it apparently is happening at the “encouragement” or direction of high-up Obama Administration officials.
As these writers point out, there’s hardly a life-related topic about which religions speak which does not have political implications - abortion, pacifism, racism, sexuality, the death penalty, human trafficking, poverty … . The IRS needs to be taken out of the business of telling churches and other non-profits what they can and cannot preach!