The Freedom From Religion Foundation took the Internal Revenue Service to court over its failure to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations, calling it a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and of FFRF’s equal protection rights. FFRF filed the lawsuit Nov. 14, 2012, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Many sources indicate the IRS has not taken action against electioneering churches for 3 years.As many as 1,500 clergy reportedly violated the electioneering restrictions on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. The complaint also references “blatantly political” full-page ads running in the three Sundays leading up to the presidential elections by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. FFRF seeks to enjoin IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman from continuing “a policy of non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.” Additionally, FFRF seeks to order Shulman “to authorize a high-ranking official within the IRS to approve and initiate enforcement of the restrictions of §501(c)(3) against churches and religious organizations, including the electioneering restrictions, as required by law.”
FFRF has more than 19,000 members nationwide “who are opposed to government preferences and favoritism toward religion.” This non-enforcement “constitutes preferential treatment to churches and religious organizations that is not provided to other tax-exempt organizations, including FFRF,” the complaint notes. “Churches and religious organizations obtain a significant benefit as a result of being non-exempt from income taxation, while also being able to preferentially engage in electioneering, which is something secular tax-exempt organizations cannot do.” This preferential tax exemption involves more than $100 billion annually in tax-free contributions to churches and religious organizations in the United States.
The lawsuit, FFRF v. Schulman, (12-cv-818), was filed by attorney Richard L. Bolton. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge William Conley.