Fifteen Republican members of Congress sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig last week, demanding the IRS reverse their decision to deny a Christian group tax-exempt status.
In addition to a reversal, lawmakers called on the IRS to terminate the employees responsible for the “blatantly biased, discriminatory, and flawed reasoning that led to the determination.”
Christians Engaged, which operates out of Garland, Texas, first applied to become a 501 (c)(3) in late 2019. They received a rejection letter on May 18, 2021, from Exempt Organizations Director Stephen A. Martin saying the group “engage[s] in prohibited political campaign intervention” and “operate[s] for a substantial non-exempt private purpose and for the private interests of the [Republican] party.”
Martin specifically denied the group tax-exempt status because the group educates Christians of what the Bible says, including “the areas of sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and borders and immigration, U.S. and Israel relations.”
“The Bible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican Party] and candidates. This disqualifies you from exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3),” Martin concluded in his denial letter.
The First Liberty Institute, which is representing Christians Engaged, sent the appeal letter on June 16, saying Martin’s decision mischaracterizes the nature of the non-profit and infringes on first amendment liberties.
“From its religious perspective, Christians Engaged provides nonpartisan religious and civic education, focusing on encouraging and educating Christians to be civically engaged as a part of their religious practice,” according to the appeal letter.
Christians Engaged maintains its goals are:
To awaken, motivate, and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ to: pray for our nation and our elected officials regularly, vote in every election to impact our culture, and engage our hearts in some forms of political education or activism for the furtherance of our nation.
The non-profit works to show Christians how to “civically engage as part of their religious practice” but does not promote specific parties or candidates or earn money for political causes, according to the appeal letter.
Lea Patterson, who is representing Christians Engaged and serves as counsel with First Liberty Institute, said the decision from the IRS is strange and not in line with their past practices. Patterson said the IRS is discriminating based on religion.
“If the IRS going forward thinks that Bible teaching is Republican-affiliated, then that could endanger the tax-exempt status of many religious organizations — including potentially churches, which obviously teach the Bible with some frequency,” Patterson told Breitbart News previously.
Members of Congress reiterated Patterson’s concern, saying the IRS’s decision could jeopardize the tax-exempts status of thousands of Christian churches across the country.
“These issues have always been at the core of Christian belief and classifying them as inherently political is patently absurd,” the letter reads.
In First Liberty Institutes’ appeal letter, Patterson pointed out the IRS has approved 501(c)(3) status for several other organizations that behave almost identically to Christians Engaged. The letter specifically mentioned a non-profit Michelle Obama started called Civic Nation, whose “When We All Vote” initiative says its mission is:
[T]o change the culture around voting and to increase participation in each and every election by helping to close the race and age gap. Created by Michelle Obama, When We All Vote brings together individuals, institutions, brands, and organizations to register new voters across the country and advance civic education for the entire family and voters of every age to build an informed and engaged electorate for today and generations to come. We empower our supporters and volunteers to take action through voting, advocating for their rights, and holding their elected officials accountable.
Lawmakers further stressed how millions of Americans let their religious beliefs inform the way they vote and how many religious organizations conduct get out the vote efforts.
“The IRS must objectively analyze applications for tax-exempt status and cannot allow political biases to creep into its decision,” they said.
This is not the first time the IRS has been accused of discrimination against conservatives.
“In 2013, the IRS garnered national outrage when the agency admitted to having targeted conservative groups’ tax-exempt applications that had the terms “Tea Party” or “Patriot” during the 2012 presidential election season,” the Christian Post reported.
Then director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, Lois Lerner, issued an apology for the attacks, saying that it was “absolutely inappropriate and not the way we should do things.”
Going forward, Patterson said Christians Engaged must wait while the IRS goes through its official internal administrative appeal process over the next few months. If they are denied again, the IRS and Christians Engaged could end up in federal court.
Breitbart News reached out to the IRS asking if the agency would like to comment on accusations of religious discrimination. The agency has not responded.
Lawmakers who signed off on the letter include:
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT), Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), Sen. Michael Lee (R-UT), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Rep.Dan Bishop (R-NC), Rep. Y’vette Herrel (R-NM), Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Rep. Bob Good(R-VA).