FFRF ran a full-page ad in the July 3 New York Times to protest the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling that is bringing in many new members (welcome, all) and is still creating a stir.
Featuring a portrait of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, whose motto was “No Gods — No Masters,” the ad criticizes the “all-male, all-Roman Catholic majority” on the court for putting “religious wrongs over women’s rights.”
That caught the attention of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who facetiously thanked FFRF for showing there is still anti-Catholic bigotry. Dolan claimed the ad was a “drippingly bigoted blast in the hospitable pages of The New York Times.”
The near-apoplectic Bill Donohue, Catholic League president, of course claimed FFRF was bigoted for pointing out that six of the nine court members are Catholic, with five of them very committed and reactionary Catholics.
FFRF’s 2012 full-page ad in the Times was titled “It’s time to consider quitting the Catholic Church.” (The paper made FFRF rephrase the original headline, which was the much punchier: “It’s time to quit the Catholic Church.”)
Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which the ad criticized for openly declaring war on the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate and for placing dogma above humanity.
Online newscaster Cenk Uygur of “The Young Turks” featured an amusing analysis July 13 of the reaction to the latest ad, running clips of Fox News going after FFRF. Andrea Tantaros emceed a round table going after FFRF and the Times, showing a close-up of the “Dogma should not trump civil liberties” part of the ad.
“The ad doesn’t go after Catholics. It says we don’t want the Catholics to force their religion on us,” Uygur pointed out. “If there’s so much bigotry against Catholics, how did so many of them wind up on the Supreme Court?”
FFRF has taken the lead in calling for repeal of the 1993 Religious Freedom Resoration Act, which was the basis for the Hobby Lobby ruling.
“None of our civil rights, established after decades and decades of struggle and education, will be safe until RFRA is overturned,” commented Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. (See more about ruling on page 5.)
Lewis Public Schools in Lewis, Kansas, will no longer allow staff to facilitate distribution by the Gideons of religious materials. A complainant contacted FFRF after a fifth-grade teacher told students to cross the street unescorted to receive a bible. The teacher lined the students up, told them to cross the street to get the bibles, but did not accompany the children because she believed this made her actions legal.
When the complainant’s child refused a bible because the student’s family was not religious, the teacher asked the student, “Do you always do what your parents tell you to do?”
The complainant noted that bible distribution by Gideons at the school has been going on for 30-some years.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on May 21 to Superintendent Virgil Ritchie, pointing out why forcing students to accept religious literature is predatory and illegal. On June 10, Ritchie responded that it had been decided that “Lewis Elementary School will not allow The Gideon Society to distribute materials during the school day or on school grounds. The teacher mentioned in your letter is no longer employed by the school district.”
Satanist suit based
on Hobby Lobby
The New York-based Satanic Temple announced July 28 a campaign against “informed consent” laws that require providers to furnish women certain information when they seek an abortion. Citing the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, the group argues that women can claim a religious exemption from the informational requirements.
A press release said the court “has decided that religious beliefs are so sacrosanct that they can even trump scientific fact. This was made clear when they allowed Hobby Lobby to claim certain contraceptives were abortifacients, when in fact they are not. Because of the respect the Court has given to religious beliefs, and the fact that our beliefs are based on best available knowledge, we expect that our belief in the illegitimacy of state mandated ‘informational’ material is enough to exempt us, and those who hold our beliefs, from having to receive them.”
The temple’s website says it holds “the basic premise that undue suffering is bad, and that which reduces suffering is good. We do not believe in symbolic ‘evil.’ We embrace blasphemy as a legitimate expression of personal independence from counterproductive traditional norms.”
• • •
In Hasan v. Obama and Rabbani v. Obama, filed July 3 in D.C.’s federal district court, the British advocacy group Reprieve argued that the previous decision in Rasul v. Myers holding that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not persons protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has effectively been overruled by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case:
“The Guantanamo Bay detainees, as flesh-and-blood human beings, are surely ‘individuals,’ and thus they are no less ‘person[s]’ than are the for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby or the resident noncitizens whom Hobby Lobby gives as an example of persons to whom the RFRA must apply.”
Reprieve earlier filed emergency motions on behalf of two prisoners seeking the right to participate in communal prayer during Ramadan.
• • •
A Reuters/Ipsos poll of 10,693 people conducted April 28 to June 20 showed that most respondents oppose letting employers, based on their religious views, exclude certain contraceptives from workers’ insurance coverage.
Results showed 53% disagreed that employers should be able to limit coverage, while 35% agreed and 12% were unsure.
Suit settled over
denial of bus ads
A federal lawsuit by the Washington, D.C.-based United Coalition of Reason against the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh was settled July 2, with the agency agreeing to pay UnitedCoR $20,000 in damages and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association $40,000 in expenses. FFRF is a coalition ally.
The suit was filed in November 2013 after the Port Authority refused to run $5,700 worth of bus ads which would have read “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”
Fred Edwords, national director of UnitedCoR, said, “We also still maintain that the Port Authority didn’t correctly apply its new ad policy when they allowed certain ads by religious groups to run but not ours. However, through the litigation process we believe we’ve made our point and that the Port Authority will apply its new ad policy more consistently in the future.”
31-cross display gets court setback
In Cabral v. City of Evansville, Indiana, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on June 25 dismissed for lack of standing an appeal of an Indiana federal district court’s injunction barring the city of Evansville from permitting West Side Christian Church’s proposed display of 6-foot-tall crosses on the Riverfront area.
The district court ruled the 31 crosses would violate the Establishment Clause, reported Religion Clause. The city didn’t appeal but the church did as an intervenor.
The 7th Circuit concluded that to have standing, West Side would need to apply for and have a permit denied, which hasn’t occurred. The opinion said, “We question whether a reasonable observer would be put on notice that the ‘Cross the River’ display is strictly private speech given the sheer magnitude of a display that takes up four blocks and has two signs alerting citizens that it is a private display.”
Board changes prayer policy after Greece
The Carroll County Board of Commissioners in Maryland unanimously approved a process June 26 for opening meetings with Christian prayers to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway. The 5-4 decision said that a governing body using sectarian prayer must have a formalized process, according to the Carroll County Times, quoting County Attorney Tim Burke.
Commissioners agreed to change “We pray” in the formal process to “I pray” at the end of the prayer led by participating board members. Residents Bruce Hake and Neil Ridgely sued the county earlier over the prayers, and while the suit is still pending, the Greece decision may have rendered it moot.
• • •
Opening prayer is back to start meetings in the town of Troutman, N.C., reported Time Warner Cable News. On July 10, the mayor and town alders were led in prayer by a local pastor. The restoring of the tradition came after the May Supreme Court ruling Town of Greece v. Galloway.
The board agreed to let non-Christians, including atheists, deliver invocations, during which the audience will not be asked to stand. “They have to remain seated except for the pastor, so everyone is perceived to be equal, you know. If we can get the prayer back, that’s a fair trade off, I guess,” said Mayor Elbert Richardson.
Certiorari denied in Soledad cross case
The Supreme Court declined on June 30 to review Mount Soledad Memorial Association v. Trunk, a decades-old case in which FFRF member and foxhole atheist Steve Trunk is a party. The high court said the case must first go to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The veterans group wanted to let it “leapfrog” to the Supreme Court after a lower federal court ruled in December that the 43-foot Christian cross erected on public land in San Diego in 1954 should come down.
“The Court of Appeals has not yet reviewed on appeal,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “Any review by this Court can await the decision of the Court of Appeals.”
Sending the case back to a lower court could mean the case will last at least another two to three years, Religion News Service reported.
Obama signs bill placing FDR prayer
President Barack Obama signed a bill June 30 to add President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s D-Day prayer (June 6, 1944) to the World War II Memorial in the nation’s capital.
The prayer encourages Americans to “Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment, let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.”
The bill requires private fundraising to have the prayer inscribed on the monument.
GOP not enamored of ‘liberal’ pope
The Hill reported July 29 that H. Res. 440, a resolution congratulating Pope Francis on his election last March and recognizing his inspirational statements and actions, has fallen victim to politics.
The resolution is stalled in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Only 19 of its 221 co-sponsors are Republicans. Apparently, most in the GOP see the pope as too liberal. The resolution was intended to reinforce Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to the pope to address a joint session of Congress when he visits the U.S. in September 2015.
Suit: ‘Sham’ forum favored Christians
A dispute over a Christian war memorial in King, N.C., should go to trial, U.S. District Judge James Beaty ruled July 8. He also ruled that several of the city’s practices regarding religious memorial ceremonies are unconstitutional.
Hewett v. City of King was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of Steven Hewett, a decorated Afghanistan veteran and FFRF Life Member. The suit seeks removal of a Christian flag and a statue with a soldier kneeling before a cross and an end to city promotion of Christian prayers at official memorial events.
In November 2010, the city, on advice from the evangelical legal group the Alliance Defending Freedom, created a “limited public forum” in which a memorial flagpole was reserved for a rotating group of pre-approved flags. The city held a lottery and approved 52 applications.
The suit says the forum is a sham. The Christian flag flew for 47 out of 52 weeks in 2011-13. Beaty also rejected the claim that the Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway authorized the city’s conduct.
Ohio students get ‘released time’ credit
An Ohio law goes into effect in September that allows up to two academic credits for public high school students taking part in “released time” religious programs off-campus.
In a Cleveland Plain Dealer op-ed July 13, Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the law unwisely added a “fourth ‘R’ [religion] to the “Three R’s” — readin’, ’ritin’ and ’rithmetic.”
“Ohio students can now learn dinosaurs died off millions of years ago, yet also lived only a few thousand years ago, and potentially receive credit for both lessons,” Daniels wrote. “For their part, Ohio lawmakers deserve an ‘F’ for passing this poorly written, nonsensical mess of a law.”
Appeals court upholds Ground Zero cross
In American Atheists Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on July 28 rejected a challenge to the display in the National September 11 Museum of a 17-foot-high “Cross at Ground Zero” made up steel beams from the World Trade Center debris after 9/11. The court ruled “the stated purpose of displaying The Cross at Ground Zero is to tell the story of how some people used faith to cope with the tragedy is genuine, and an objective observer would understand the purpose of the display to be secular.”
June 30 marked a turning point in the struggle to uphold the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to FFRF’s statement released on the day the Supreme Court issued its chilling abuse of “religious liberty.”
In a 5-4 split, the court held that for-profit corporations can exercise their so-called religious conscience in order to restrict employees’ access to contraceptives. The ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores held that the contraceptive coverage granted by the Affordable Care Act creates a “significant burden” on a corporation’s free exercise of religion.
Once again an all-Catholic, all-male, all-ultra-conservative majority of five has voted to eviscerate fundamental rights. The law’s requirement that employers who provide health care coverage must offer preventive care, including prescriptive contraceptives, does not violate the rights of Hobby Lobby, even though it is run by a fundamentalist zealot. But the court’s ruling giving corporate veto power over women workers’ private contraceptive choices, certainly violates the rights of women.
It was all over by page 2 of the Supreme Court’s decision favoring the fundamentalist Christian owner of Hobby Lobby Stores and the Mennonite owner of Conestoga Wood Specialties. Justice Samuel Alito, joined by his Catholic brethren, wrote these jaw-dropping words:
“[W]e must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions.”
The fanatical businessmen who brought the litigation believe some forms of the birth control pill and IUD are abortifacients, despite reality. The amicus brief of the College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and 21 other medical professional groups thoroughly debunking this misrepresentation.
The ruling was not based on the Constitution, but on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a statute. This statute was adopted by Congress and must be repealed by Congress. Even Alito admits: “As we have seen, RFRA was designed to provide very broad protection for religious liberty. By enacting RFRA, Congress went far beyond what this Court has held is constitutionally required.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s amicus brief noted state-church attorney Marci A. Hamilton (joined by groups advocating for the rights of victims of religious abuse), was the only brief before the Supreme Court that argued that RFRA is unconstitutional. FFRF’s important brief points out that RFRA “accords religious believers extreme religious liberty rights that yield a political and fiscal windfall in violation of the clearest commands of the Establishment Clause.”
During oral arguments, counsel for the government, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, noted that a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby would be “the first time under the Free Exercise Clause or under RFRA in which [the Supreme Court] or any court has held that an employer . . . may be granted an exemption that extinguishes statutorily guaranteed benefits of fundamental importance.”
The ruling ignored the rights and needs of thousands of female Hobby Lobby employees, and millions of women nationwide who work at for-profit corporations. Women workers must not be at the mercy of employers who happen to be religious fanatics who want to intrude into private reproductive decisions that are none of their business. Rather than protecting women workers’ right to health care and women’s freedom of conscience, the Court has turned its back on them in the name of “religious liberty.”
This damaging decision opens the floodgates for corporations, interested only in increasing their bottom line, to claim religious objections to a variety of generally applicable laws. The Court arbitrarily claims its decision would not necessarily allow a corporation to claim a similar religious objection to blood transfusions, vaccines, or mental health services, or create a religious right to discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or race. But very obviously, the ruling creates mischievous precedent that will haunt the next generation of litigation.
The high court has ruled that contraception — the right to plan families and avert unwanted pregnancies — is not necessary for women’s health. One in four U.S. women died due to pregnancy or childbirth in the 19th century. It is a lie for the Supreme Court to aver that birth control is not preventive medicine. The court is practicing reckless medicine without a license.
We cannot let a male, Catholic, ultra-conservative majority on the court turn the clock back a century. Join FFRF in working now for the most practical remedy for this pernicious decision — the repeal by Congress of RFRA. None of our civil and human rights, established after decades and decades of struggle and education, will be safe from the reach of religious bigots until RFRA is overturned.
This statement was written by FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, Staff Attorneys Andrew Seidel and Sam Grover. Turn to page 12 to read FFRF’s ad against the Hobby Lobby ruling that ran in The New York Times on July 3.
In 2010, [Judge] Crabb declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, provoking national outrage. The decision was overturned by a federal appeals court. Asked in a joking way what her thinking was in issuing that ruling, Crabb laughed softly and said, “I was thinking that the government shouldn’t be in the business of sponsoring, promoting religion. Obviously, people disagreed.”
Profile of U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, who ruled in favor of FFRF in its National Day of Prayer lawsuit
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7-22-14
Based on the evidence, this crime did not occur as reported.
Dayton, Ohio, Police Chief Richard Biehl, on a bus driver’s story that his chest pocket bible miraculously stopped two bullets, when in reality he fired the shot himself with the book on the sidewalk
We have been starting our meetings with a nonsectarian prayer since 2013. The Greece, N.Y., case is prompting us to change the method.
Alex Saitta, chairman of the School Board of Pickens County, S.C., on switching to “Jesus prayers”
Christian Post, 6-27-14
The Supreme Court ruled today that some bosses can now withhold contraceptive care from their employees’ health coverage based on their own religious views that their employees may not even share. President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, on Obama’s reaction to the Hobby Lobby decision
This is the heart of theocratic ideology: It is a fascism with a religious face. Although Christians and Muslims have had numerous conflicts over the centuries that cost countless lives, the similarities between their two doctrines when carried to extremes are downright eerie.
Randy Renau, Corryton, Tenn., letter to the editor, “Culture should not be based on Bible”
Knoxville News, 7-1-14
This is a simple case of equal time. The Supreme Court says that invocations are constitutional if the policy doesn’t discriminate along sectarian bounds. That includes invocations by representatives of atheism, humanism, Wicca or any other religious tradition.
Randy Word, president of Metroplex Atheists, on applying to give the opening City Council invocation in Rowlett, Texas
Lakeshore Times, 7-1-14
When Gallup measured Bible reading in the 1980s, three in four Americans claimed to read Scripture at least on occasion. Two decades later, that number had fallen by 20%. That’s like losing 700 Bible readers every day.
Ruth Kramer, article, “Decline in Bible literacy”
Mission Network News, 7-2-14
Atheism Rules/Wins (With Facts)
Message chalked on the sidewalk at John Knox Presbyterian Church, Keizer, Ore.
Salem Statesman Journal, 6-6-14
Muslims in the United Arab Emirates are among the most common sufferers of degenerative knee problems in the world because of soaring obesity rates and a kneeling-to-pray culture.
Abu Dhabi National, 6-7-14
Wearing pink or blue shoes, [the soccer players] might as well wear women’s panties or a bra.
Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Shumsky, calling the World Cup a “homosexual abomination”
Moscow Times, 6-7-14
In the Hobby Lobby [and Conestoga Wood] cases, five male justices of the Supreme Court, who are all members of the Catholic faith and who each were appointed by a president who hailed from the Republican Party, decided that a huge corporation, with thousands of employees and gargantuan revenues, was a “person” entitled to assert a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate because that corporation was “closely held” by family members. To the average person, the result looks stupid and smells worse.
Judge Richard G. Kopf, U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush
Judge Kendall Sharp of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida dismissed FFRF’s free speech case against the Orange County School District as moot, since the district has agreed to let FFRF distribute all of the literature it had previously prohibited.
In 2013, FFRF and its local chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community, sought to distribute literature in several public high schools after the district allowed an evangelical Christian group to distribute bibles.
“This is a victory. The court has acknowledged that the school district is allowing all the materials that were initially prohibited,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “We disagree with how the court and the school district chose to handle this clear-cut discrimination, so we’re planning to appeal on some issues, but overall, it’s a win.”
The now-permitted materials include a pamphlet that the district had previously prohibited, claiming it “argues that Jesus did not promote equality and social justice, was not compassionate, was not reliable and was not a good example.”
Other FFRF “nontracts” that discuss what the bible says about abortion and which, according to the district, “assert that God is hateful, arrogant, sexist and cruel,” will now be allowed. As will Robert Price’s Jesus Is Dead, which the district banned earlier because “[t]he claim that Jesus was not crucified or resurrected is age-inappropriate for the maturity levels of many of the students in high school.” (An odd claim given that the district allowed the violence-filled bible.)
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who worked closely on the case with litigating attorney Steven Brady, noted that the forum is now open to all comers. “Satanists can distribute their literature, Muslims can distribute the Quran and atheists can distribute books that criticize religion.”
CFFC Leader David Williamson added, “We intend to give out a lot more literature to educate students about atheism and the importance of keeping religion out of public schools. We are even designing new materials specifically for students and families in Orange County.”
From the beginning, FFRF and CFFC have maintained that Orange County should close the distribution forum. “The irony is that kids can get a bible anywhere. It’s the country’s most widely available book,” Seidel said. “But where could a Christian kid get a copy of Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation so easily? As long as the forum remains open, they can get one in Orange County Public Schools.”
FFRF thanks David Williamson for being a plaintiff and for his hard work. Other plaintiffs were FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, whose writings were among those that were censored.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a joint federal lawsuit July 23 on behalf of FFRF member Douglas Marshall, contesting the ban of a “reason station” in a city hall atrium where the city has allowed a “prayer station.”
Since 2008, the city of Warren, Mich., has allowed Tabernacle Church, a Church of God congregation, to set up the prayer station, in which volunteers distribute religious pamphlets, pray with passersby and promote their religious beliefs. The lawsuit doesn’t seek to remove the prayer station but asks the court to order the city to treat believers and nonbelievers equally.
When Marshall, a Warren resident, asked to set up a reason station in April for two days a week, he was denied a permit. According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Marshall and other volunteers who operate the reason station would offer philosophical discussions with people who express an interest in secularism.
Upon receiving news of the lawsuit, Fouts told The Associated Press: “The city has certain values that I don’t believe are in general agreement with having an atheist station, nor in general agreement with having a Nazi station or Ku Klux Klan station.” He added that a reason station “will not contribute to community values or helping an individual out.”
In his rejection letter, Mayor James Fouts wrote: “To my way of thinking, your group is strictly an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion. The City of Warren cannot allow this.”
“Our Warren member simply wants the same access to the atrium that has been granted to others, including those who operate the prayer station,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “Regardless of one’s viewpoint, there’s no legally justifiable reason to deny Douglas Marshall his First Amendment rights.”
Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan deputy legal director, said, “Once the government opens public space for use by private groups, it cannot pick and choose who can use the space based on the content of their message or whether public officials agree with that message. The city cannot allow speech supportive of religion and reject speech supportive of atheism.”
“The city has an obligation to serve all members of the community equally, regardless of their faith or their lack of faith,” added Alex Luchenitser, Americans United associate legal director.
“The government can’t simply silence private speakers whenever it dislikes their message,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Nobody should be excluded from their own city hall based on what they believe, or don’t believe.”
In addition to Korobkin, Luchenitser and Mach, Marshall is represented by Ayesha Khan of Americans United, Rebecca Markert and Patrick Elliott of FFRF and Michael Steinberg, Kary Moss and William Wertheimer of the ACLU of Michigan.
To read the legal complaint and motion for preliminary injunction:
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 July 17 to dismiss the lawsuit voluntarily, after communications from the IRS that it no longer has a policy of non-enforcement against churches. 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.
The settlement would allow FFRF to voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit “without prejudice,” meaning FFRF can renew it if the IRS reverts to its previous inaction. As of press time, District Judge Lynn Adelman of Milwaukee, hadn’t ruled on the agreement.
“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,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “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.”
FFRF sued in November 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 openly engage in politicking at annual organized events such as “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” An IRS official publicly reported in 2012 that the IRS had an ongoing moratorium on making church tax examinations.
On June 16, a year and a half after 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 it will only dismiss 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 has proclaimed Oct. 5 as Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year, filed 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.