FAQ on FFRF’s settlement with the IRS over electioneering by religious organizations

Over the last few weeks, there have been numerous media outlets and news organizations reporting misleading and factually inaccurate information about FFRF’s joint dismissal of the FFRF v. Koskinen lawsuit. FFRF would like to set the record straight.

What was FFRF’s lawsuit about and what happened?

FFRF sued the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in late 2012 to compel it to enforce its own regulations barring tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in partisan political activity.  FFRF had reason to believe that the IRS was not enforcing these regulations against churches or other religious organizations.In fact, a theocratic legal society, the Alliance Defending Freedom, is the chief sponsor and promulgator of “Pulpit Freedom Sundays,” in which it urges churches to openly flout the law and endorse from the pulpit. Many such churches have directly “turned themselves in” to the IRS to test the law.

In July 2014, FFRF agreed to voluntary dismissal of its case because recent clarifications by the IRS have remedied its concerns. 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.

Doesn’t this mean the IRS is targeting conservative churches?

No.There is no change in federal law or IRS regulations; rather, the tax code is being enforced evenhandedly. There will be no impact or effect on any law-abiding 501(c)(3) groups, including churches. All that the IRS intends to do now is to follow an already existing objective process for enforcing electioneering restrictions in a way that ensures no nefarious targeting of any organization occurs. 

Does this settlement prevent pastors from commenting on social issues, such as same-sex marriages, abortion, contraceptive coverage, etc.?

No. FFRF specifically challenged the IRS’s purported policy of “non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions” as to churches and religious organizations.  Section 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code prohibits all nonprofits — including churches and other religious organizations, and FFRF — from intervening in political campaigns as a condition of their tax-exempt status. This means these organizations are strictly prohibited from participating or intervening, directly or indirectly, in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elected public office.

Is FFRF targeting conservative churches because it disagrees with their political views on social issues?

No. Some news organizations and commentators have stated that FFRF is “targeting” conservative churches. This is simply untrue. Since 2006, FFRF has sent more than 50 letters to the IRS. asking for investigations into situations in which FFRF believes the tax code was violated. FFRF has acted on complaints from the public, who believe the law is being violated. FFRF letters to the IRS. about possible violations are made without regard to political affiliation or allegiance. For instance, in the 2012 election, FFRF sent a letter to the IRS regarding a pastor at a church in North Carolina who urged his congregation during worship services to vote for President Obama.

Furthermore, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, FFRF cannot take any partisan action. FFRF aligns itself with no political party.

Did FFRF withdraw the case because the IRS. agreed to “monitor” specific churches?

FFRF did not withdraw its suit pursuant to any agreement to “monitor” sermons and homilies for proscribed speech with which FFRF disagrees. As the court documents state, FFRF withdrew the case because it “is satisfied that the IRS does not have a policy at this time of non-enforcement specific to churches and religious institutions.” 

Is FFRF “out to suppress free speech rights”?

No. As a defender of the First Amendment, FFRF respects the free speech rights of any individual or organization. Tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations are afforded a special privilege in our country. If an organization chooses to be tax-exempt under 501(c)(3), it forfeits the right to engage in political campaign intervention. Churches and other religious organizations are free to engage in electioneering if they so choose, but they cannot abuse their tax-exempt privilege and remain tax-exempt.

Doesn’t a dismissal mean losing a case?

No. When parties settle a case, the case must be removed from the court’s docket. The dismissal is a procedure for doing so. FFRF’s case was dismissed “without prejudice” meaning FFRF can refile if the IRS fails to enforce the law. 

— Written by FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.