Church intervenes in FFRF pulpit politicking suit

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 the clergyman and church, which openly admit in their brief that they don’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. Incidentally, FFRF calls RFRA unconstitutional in its amicus brief, written by attorney Marci Hamilton, in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

FFRF filed its suit in November 2012, taking the IRS to court over its failure to enforce electioneering restrictions that require 501(c) tax-exempt entities to refrain from endorsing political candidates. 

FFRF recently prevailed in its federal challenge to an IRS policy that benefits clergy. The government has appealed that ruling on the parish exemption to the 7th Circuit.

FFRF has a third challenge of the IRS in federal court over the fact that churches are exempt from filing the same financial accountability reports, the Form 990, required of all other 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

Freedom From Religion Foundation