A Madison, Wisconsin based group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed suit against the Internal Revenue Service for failing to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.
Filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, the lawsuit charges that Douglas Shulman, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, “has violated, continues to violate and will continue to violate in the future, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States by failing to enforce the electioneering restrictions of 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code against churches and religious organizations.” which prohibits nonprofit organizations and organizations that are exempt from federal income taxes from being involved in political campaigns.
The lawsuit cites “open and notorious violations” of these electioneering restrictions by churches since 2008, including “blatantly partisan full-page ads” using as evidence the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that ran in papers throughout the country leading up to the Nov. 6 election where Graham urges people to vote “for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.”
The lawsuit also charges that the IRS’s failure to enforce these electioneering laws violates the equal protection rights of other nonprofits barred from engaging in political activity.
In a news release, the Freedom from Religion Foundation refers to a Bloomberg BNA story in which Russell Renwicks, an employee with the IRS’s Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division, was quoted as saying the agency had suspended doing tax audits of churches. The release notes an IRS spokesman later claimed that Renwicks “misspoke,” but adds that there “appears to be no evidence of IRS inquiries or action in the past three years.”