The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt to stop his smear campaign against FFRF, the nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics.
As part of an Aug. 5 records request to the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Justice related to FFRF's recently settled suit against the IRS, Pruitt said:
"At the intersection of those two fundamental rights [free speech and free exercise] lies the right of religious organizations to encourage their members to engage in the political process in a manner consistent with the core tenets of their religions. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is unabashed in its desire to destroy that right, and the fact that this organization has now entered into an agreement with the IRS — an agreement that they call 'a victory' for their cause — is alarming."
In FFRF's Aug. 7 letter to Pruitt, Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said: "I write to correct your disparaging and unwarranted mischaracterization of our organization, which works not to 'destroy' the First Amendment but to uphold the law and the Constitution."
"FFRF agreed to voluntary dismissal of our case because recent changes by the IRS have remedied our concerns," Gaylor added. "FFRF is satisfied that the IRS does not at this time have a policy specific to churches of non-enforcement of its anti-electioneering provisions. As you are undoubtedly aware, there is an appropriate blanket ban against any and all 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in political action, specifically such as endorsing political candidates."
Since agreeing to settle the suit July 17, FFRF has encountered a lot of misconceptions about the suit, the settlement and the law, which went into effect in 1954. FFRF is not "targeting" churches, Gaylor said.
"No tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit, church or otherwise, may lawfully engage in partisan, political action. Tax exemption is a privilege, not a right, granted by the government to certain categories of nonprofits in exchange for abiding by certain reasonable rules. Entities that wish to reap that major privilege must earn it, including by a ban on electioneering. Churches of course remain free to endorse any political candidate they want — but if they choose to electioneer, they choose to lose their tax-exempt privileges, just like every other partisan, politicking organization."
Pruitt also made some wildly misleading claims on the issue Aug. 5 on Fox News' "The Kelly File" with guest host Shannon Bream.
Gaylor called Pruitt's claim that FFRF “is unabashed in its desire to destroy [a First Amendment] right" unfortunate, ignorant and possibly slanderous. "Please cease and desist making untrue statements that damage our organization’s reputation and irresponsibly sensationalize and distort the simple facts of this case."
To clarify the issues, FFRF has put together an FAQ, which can be read here.