Americans of faith ought to feel a chill when they hear that the Internal Revenue Service asked a pro-life group about the content of its prayers.
According to the Des Moines Register, the president of the Coalition for Life of Iowa applied in 2009 for a tax-exempt status from the IRS. She received a call from the IRS, asking about the group’s prayer vigils at a Planned Parenthood facility.
An IRS letter followed the call.
Yahoo! News provided a screenshot of a portion of the IRS letter: “Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood are considered educational … Please explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organization spends on prayer groups as compared with other activities of the organization.”
After the pro-life group retained the legal counsel of the Thomas More Society, it obtained its tax-exempt status.
Steven Miller, an acting IRS commissioner, was asked at last week’s congressional hearing about this case.
“Would that be an appropriate question to a 501(c)(3) applicant?” asked Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.). “The content of one’s prayers?”
Miller said, “Speaking outside of this case, which I don’t know anything about, it would surprise me that that question was asked.”
Would that this was the only example of the IRS’ abuse of power – targeting of conservative faith groups that have a moral perspective at odds with the Obama administration.
Regrettably, it is not.
A James Dobson organization was targeted by the IRS.
Family Talk Action (FTA) submitted a tax-exempt request in September 2011 that wasn’t approved until March 2013.
FTA alleged that an IRS agent said the organization appeared to be “a partisan right-wing group” and accused the group of being “political” since it “criticized President Obama, who was a candidate,” according to The Christian Post.
Other examples of the IRS’ targeting of conservative faith groups include Samaritan’s Purse, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Catholics United for Life and the Biblical Recorder, the Baptist state paper of North Carolina.
Catholic News Agency reported that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) will sue the IRS, after the IRS allegedly leaked its confidential tax information to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a same-sex marriage advocacy organization.
HRC posted NOM’s private data on its website in March 2012. Other sites reposted the confidential returns related to NOM donors.
NOM’s chairman questioned the timing of the leak in March, shortly after the HRC president was named co-chair of President Obama’s re-election campaign.
What would explain the IRS targeting conservative faith groups and leaking confidential information?
Does the IRS have a liberal agenda at odds with these groups? Was the IRS seeking to intimidate conservative Christians? Was the IRS trying to redirect their funding from program efforts to legal expenses?
If the IRS wasn’t acting politically, where is the evidence the IRS targeted liberal faith groups – asking about the content of their prayers, commenting on their political advocacy and leaking their donor lists? Where’s the evidence that the IRS held up their tax-exempt status?
Making matters worse is the IRS’ pattern of deception – failure to be honest with Congress about the targeting of conservatives and failure to be honest about how the news “broke” about what had happened at the IRS.
An IRS official “leaked” the story of what the IRS had been doing just before the release of the Department of Treasury’s Inspector General report on this IRS scandal.
Pretending to respond spontaneously to an unanticipated audience question at an American Bar Association meeting, an IRS official apologized for the agency’s actions.
When asked about the apology, the IRS official said, “I was asked a question at the ABA meeting to give a status update of things that have been in the press.”
The official said, “Someone asked me a question today, so I answered it.”
Turns out that the “someone” was an attorney who is on an IRS committee related to tax exemption and was asked to ask the question by the official who deceptively pretended not to know the question would be asked.
Given the partisanship and deception, why should the public simply accept what the IRS claims to have happened?
And then, the dark question: Given the Obama administration’s strained relationship with the conservative evangelical leaders and Catholic bishops, did it foster a culture that encouraged the IRS to act in politically hostile ways to faith groups, to conservative groups?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.