The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Internal Revenue Service are poised to resolve FFRF’s closely-watched federal lawsuit challenging the IRS’s non-enforcement of anti-electioneering restrictions by tax-exempt churches. The expected settlement would be a major coup for FFRF, a state/church watchdog and the nation’s largest freethought association, now topping 21,000 members.
FFRF and the IRS filed an agreement on July 17 to dismiss the lawsuit voluntarily, following communications from the IRS that it no longer has a policy of non-enforcement against churches. The settlement would allow FFRF to voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit “without prejudice,” meaning FFRF can renew the lawsuit if the IRS reverts to its previous inaction. As of press time, District Judge Lynn S. Adelman, of Milwaukee, had not yet ruled on the agreement.
However, the agreement is being disputed by an obscure Milwaukee-area church, Holy Cross Anglican Church, which is intervening in the case and is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
“We’re proud that FFRF’s litigation should ensure that the IRS will now resume enforcing the law, and go after churches which abuse their tax-exempt privilege by attempting to illegally influence the outcome of elections. Otherwise, churches will become unaccountable PACs, congregations could turn into political wards, and donations to the collection box could be used for political purposes. FFRF’s litigation will help safeguard our democratic election process,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
FFRF filed suit against the IRS shortly after the presidential election in 2012, based on the agency’s reported moratorium on enforcing the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations. No 501(c)(3) entity, including churches, may retain tax-exemption if it endorses political candidates.
Yet the IRS had no procedure in place to initiate churches examinations, after a Minnesota district court invalidated the IRS’ prior procedure in 2009. Church groups began to notoriously and openly engage in politicking from the pulpit, including at annual organized events to flout the law known as “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” An IRS official publicly reported in 2012 that the IRS had an on-going moratorium on making church tax examinations, in spite of flagrant and public electioneering by churches and religious organizations.
On June 16, a year and a half after first filing suit, FFRF received its first information from the IRS indicating it no longer has a policy of non-enforcement against churches. FFRF’s counsel, Richard L. Bolton, also discussed the policy with the Department of Justice, and on June 27, FFRF was apprised that the IRS has a procedure in place for “signature authority” to initiate church tax investigations or examinations.
Complicating the practical effect for now of the settlement is the global moratorium currently in place on IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities, church or otherwise, while Congress conducts its probe on IRS tea party policies.
The intervening church filed a motion insisting: “FFRF should not be in a position to drop this lawsuit and file an identical lawsuit (and again put the Church’s interests in jeopardy) a week, a month, or a year in the future.” The Becket Fund has asked the federal court to dismiss the suit “with prejudice,” so that FFRF could not renew its challenge if the IRS reverts to taking no action on violative churches.
On July 29, FFRF filed a response making it clear FFRF will only dismiss voluntarily if “our agreement has teeth,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, “to ensure that we can resume the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, which is the force behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and which has proclaimed Oct. 5 Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year, also got into the act, filing a Freedom of Information Act request after learning of the July 17 agreement, insinuating that the IRS was withholding information.
Contrary to the intervenor’s contention, “there is nothing strange, collusive, or concealed here,” noted the IRS in a July 22 motion filed with the court.
Despite efforts by the local chapter of Metroplex Atheists to deliver secular invocations, the Rowlett City Council in Texas has censored its request for equal time, maintaining that only eligible clergy members may host governmental prayer.
The May 5 Supreme Court ruling in Greece v. Galloway, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, permitted religious invocations at government provided “that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation” 134 S. Ct. at 1816.
Thus far, the Town of Greece, N.Y., site of the ruling, has adopted a more inclusive policy, inviting a Jewish layperson, a Wiccan priestess, and on July 15, an atheist, FFRF Life Member Dan Courtney, to deliver the opening invocation at its town meetings. Conversely — despite a joint letter to the Rowlett City Council on July 24 (following a June 24 letter) from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State — the Town of Rowlett caters to its Christian majority, excluding non-Christians and nonbelievers from the equal opportunity required by law.
As Justice Elena Kagan noted in her dissent, "When citizens of all faiths come to speak to each other and their elected representatives in a legislative session, the government must take especial care to ensure that the prayers they hear will seek to include, rather than serve to divide."
We would rather see the pernicious influence of religion in the governmental sphere end entirely. But as long as divisive religious speech continues to be inserted into otherwise inclusive and secular community meetings, nonreligious invocations must be accorded equal time. Please help us send the message to Rowlett City Council that there are community members — family, coworkers, friends — who are among the 20% of the U.S. population today that identifies as nonreligious. Let them know we have voices, and that we plan to use them.
Please phone or email the Rowlett City Council now!
If you have time, cc the City Council members below:
- Michael Gallops, Mayor Pro Tem, City Councilmember Place 6 —
- Robbert van Bloemendaal — City Councilmember Place 1 —
- Tammy Dana-Bashian — City Councilmember Place 2 —
- Carl Pankratz, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem, City Councilmember Place 3 —
- Debby Bobbitt, City Councilmember Place 4 —
- Rick Sheffield, City Councilmember Place 5 —
If you live in the Rowlett area, you may wish to attend or speak out during the public comment period. Rowlett City Council meetings are on the first and third Tuesdays of every month; the next is Tuesday August 5, at the City Hall Municipal Building, located at 4000 Main St., Rowlett, TX 75088.
If you live in another community in which there is governmental prayer, consider fighting back by entering FFRF’s Nothing Fails Like Prayer contest.
It’s also helpful to write a letter to your local newspaper on why prayer in government is inappropriate.
Use your own language or feel free to use any of the language below. If you live in Rowlett, please be sure to identify yourself as a Rowlett resident.
As a Texas citizen, I demand that government officials make room for religious diversity, including opportunities for secular voices to be heard. Since Rowlett City Council meetings currently open with religious invocations, it’s improper and discriminatory to muzzle nonreligious individuals who seek the opportunity to give opening remarks. Rowlett city council has indicated that you intend “to adopt a policy that does not proselytize or advance any faith, or show any purposeful preference of one religious view to the exclusion of others,” yet you only permit members of the clergy to deliver invocations. Featuring only prayers that invoke “Jesus” and Christian values shows a “purposeful preference” and makes those of us who do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods feel like second-class citizens in our own community.
We stand with Metroplex Atheists and affirm its right to deliver a secular invocation during an upcoming council meeting. Please grant its request, and please revise your policy so as not to exclude the non-Christian and nonreligious members of your community.
Thank you for taking action now!
The Pierce County Council (Tacoma area) is considering displaying "In God We Trust" in its council chambers at the County-City Government Building. The resolution proposed by councilman Jim McCune will be considered tonight by a subcommittee. It’s on the agenda for final vote at the public meeting on Tuesday, July 29. (Please show up before 3:00 P.M. to speak against this proposal, if you live in the area. See information below.)
According to KIRO 7, when asked whether citizens who believe in another religion would still feel included in a place where this motto is displayed, Councilman McCune said, “I don’t see why not. If I go to another country, they have their statement, or their particular deity.”
Our country was founded on entirely secular principles, and government has no business endorsing any “particular deity.” County council members are elected to represent all citizens, including those of us who do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods. Both supporters and opponents of the proposal recognize that "In God We Trust" is a religious statement. The history of the motto "In God We Trust" evidences no secular purpose; on the contrary, the motto was first adopted in 1956 during the Cold War, as a reaction to the purported "godlessness" of communism. "E Pluribus Unum" [out of many, one] is the entirely secular original motto selected by a distinguished committee of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
Please attend the public meeting and voice your opposition against the proposal to add a religious public display to the County Council Chambers.
When: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 3:00 PM
Where: County-City Building, Council Chambers - Room 1045 (930 Tacoma Ave. S. Tacoma, WA 98402)
If you can’t attend or live outside the area, please immediately contact members of the Pierce County Council via phone or email:
If you live in Pierce County, please be sure to indicate you’re a local citizen.
(Use your own words or feel free to copy the language below.)
I strongly oppose the proposal to post a public display of the words “In God We Trust” in the Pierce County Council Chambers. The phrase is not representative of all Pierce County residents. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that nearly 20% of adult Americans and one in three young adults are now nonreligious. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 25% of Washington adults are nonbelievers. To be accurate, the phrase would have to say, ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that be silly? “In God We Trust” is a johnny-come-lately motto that was not adopted until 1956 during the Cold War. Our nation’s first and original motto, “E Pluribus Unum” (From many, [come] one) was chosen by a distinguished committee of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, celebrates diversity, and excludes no citizen. Why not display this historic motto instead?
County Council members are elected to represent all citizens, including those of us who do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods. Please reject this divisive and religiously exclusionary proposal.