By Tony Perkins
Most of us would love to get the IRS to go to church — but not to censor what’s being said there! Unfortunately, that seems to be the next stop on the agency’s intimidation tour, thanks to a new settlement between the President’s favorite tax bullies and the extremists at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
In late July, the government persuaded the Freedom From Religion Foundation to drop its lawsuit by striking a deal with the atheist group. They had sued the IRS to get it to do what it already does: harass religious Americans. Apparently, the radicals at the Foundation felt like churches were being left out of the administration’s conservative targeting party and took the IRS to court for refusing to crackdown on churches that spoke freely about moral or political issues from the pulpit. According to FFRF, the IRS promised to rewrite its policies and take a harder line against pastors exercising their First Amendment rights.
And, not surprisingly, the agency, whose secret-keeping is already at expert status, is keeping any details from Americans. After its latest scandals, bullying churches shouldn’t be a great leap after intimidating everyday conservatives, which the IRS’s Lois Lerner did to the tune of dozens of political and religious groups. Now, the government wants to control the soundboard at church — turning off the mics of pastors who fulfill the church’s primary purpose: teaching biblical values.
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Nevermind that churches have the freedom to preach the truth — and nevermind that not a single church has ever lost its tax exempt status for doing so, FFRF believes the government — not pastors — should decide what’s said in the pulpit. Our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom, who for years have encouraged churches to challenge the notion that free speech doesn’t apply to pastors, aren’t just disturbed that the IRS is rewriting the rules — but refusing to publicize them.
“Churches have a right to know how they will be treated by the IRS,” said ADF’s Erik Stanley. “And the IRS, as a public agency, cannot enact new policies in secrecy.” Their attorneys have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, demanding the IRS lift the curtain on its shady deal. “Every American should fear an IRS that uses its vast power to target, threaten, and punish political opponents.”
If the IRS can’t be trusted with emails, why should it be trusted to protect our constitutional right to free speech? That’s a question Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Scott Pruitt (R), hopes to get to the bottom of. In letters to Justice Department chief Eric Holder and beleaguered IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, Pruitt calls for full disclosure on any effort to monitor sermons and investigate churches.
On last night’s “Kelly File” on Fox News, Pruitt outlined the dangers of the government’s plan. “There is a concern that this has now reached content — that, if a pastor engages in scriptural teaching around the sanctity of life or the sanctity of marriage, that this organization believes that that is considered electioneering or politicking under the IRS code and has referred it to enforcement to the IRS. If this settlement reaches that level, that is a wholly new level of enforcement and we need to know about that because that shouldn’t be something done in secret.” Like us, he thinks it’s time to take the club out of the IRS’s hands and end this one-sided slippery slope of religious profiling.
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law.
(Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)
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