A court decision allowing an obscure Milwaukee-area church to intervene in FFRF’s nationally significant lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service over church politicking has placed the litigation “on the front line,” said FFRF’s litigation attorney, Richard L. Bolton.
“This will put everything in play, including the churches’ argument that the politicking restriction violates the First Amendment — using the Citizens United argument,” he added.
Although FFRF and the government defendants opposed the intervention, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee ruled Feb. 3 that Fr. Patrick Malone and the Holy Cross Anglican Church of Wauwatosa, Wis., could intervene. (The congregation left the Episcopal Church in 2008 in reaction to a series of decisions, most prominently the ordination of a gay bishop, and joined the more conservative Convocation of Anglicans of North America.)
“The intervention by Father Malone and the Holy Cross Anglican Church, which openly admits in its brief that it doesn't obey the electioneering restrictions applying to tax-exempt organizations, puts all the cards on the table,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
The church argues it has a “legal right to participate in political campaigns without forfeiting their tax-exempt status,” and cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the free speech, free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.
FFRF filed its suit in November 2012, taking the IRS to court over its failure to enforce electioneering restrictions in place since 1954 that require 501(c) tax-exempt entities to refrain from endorsing political candidates. Read more here on the case.
Madison, Wis.-based FFRF advocates for state-church separation and has more than 20,000 non-religious members nationwide. It recently prevailed in its federal challenge to an IRS policy that benefits clergy. The government has appealed that ruling on the parish exeption to the 7th Circuit.
FFRF is also suing in federal court over the fact that churches are exempt from filing the same financial accountability reports required of all other 501(c)(3) nonprofits.