Last Updated:October 22 @ 09:16 pm

Atheist group sues over religious electioneering

By Scott Bauer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A federal lawsuit filed by a Wisconsin-based group representing atheists and agnostics argues that the Internal Revenue Service is violating the U.S. Constitution by allowing tax-exempt churches and religious organizations to get involved in political campaigns.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation argues that churches and other religious organizations have become increasingly more involved in political campaigns, "blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions."

Its lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Madison argues that the IRS is not enforcing thefederal tax code, which prohibits tax-exempt religious organizations from electioneering. Not enforcing it is a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment and a violation of equal protection rights because the same preferential treatment is not provided to other tax-exemptorganizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit, which was filed against IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, asks that the court order Shulman to initiate enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.

It also asks that the IRS initiate legal action against any churches or religious organizations that are believed to be violating the restrictions.

Churches and religious organizations obtain a significant benefit from their tax-exempt status while also being able to engage in electioneering that other similar tax-exempt organizations do not do, the lawsuit argues.

A spokesman for the IRS in Wisconsin did not immediately return phone or email messages.

The lawsuit cites full-page ads run this fall in the New York Times and other newspapers by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that featured a photo of renowned evangelist Billy Graham urging Americans to vote along biblical principles. Graham met in October with Mitt Romney and pledged to do "all I can" to help the Republican presidential nominee.

The lawsuit also refers to an order from Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., requiring all the priests in his diocese to read a statement urging Catholics to vote and stating that, "Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord."

The lawsuit also refers to "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," a national event on Oct. 7 in which more than 1,500 pastors endorsed a candidate from the pulpit and then sent a record of their statement to the IRS, hoping their challenge would eventually end up in court.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has organized the event since 2008. The group considers the IRS regulations against bringing partisan politics to the pulpit an unconstitutional government intrusion.

For the past three years, the IRS hasn't been investigating complaints of partisan political activity by churches, leaving religious groups who make direct or thinly veiled endorsements of political candidates unchallenged.

The IRS monitors religious and other nonprofits on everything from salaries to spending, and that oversight continues. However, Russell Renwicks, a manager in the IRS Mid-Atlantic region, said in October that the agency had suspended audits of churches suspected of breaching federal restrictions on political activity. A 2009 federal court ruling required the IRS to clarify which high-ranking official could authorize audits over the tax code's political rules. The IRS has yet to do so.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, which says it has 19,000 members nationwide, frequently files lawsuits challenging potential violations of the separation of church and state.

In recent years it has challenged the legality of the National Day of Prayer, the placement of a cross on a war memorial in Rhode Island, and praying before sporting events and other activities at the University of Tennessee.

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12 Comments

  1. bna42Comment by bna42
    November 15, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

    “The lawsuit, which was filed against IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, asks that the court order Shulman to initiate enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.”

    Why just “churches and religious organizations” when all the Political Action Committees (527′s) are all tax-exempt and their primary function is “electioneering”?

    Churches and religious organizations are all comprised of individual people who are not required to give up their political views in order to become a part of these organizations.

    When Democrats like Bill Clinton and Nancy Pelosi go into churches and religious organizations and lobby for certain legislation and specific candidates, why don’t those particular churches lose their tax-exempt status for allowing “electioneering” in their churches?

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    • pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
      November 15, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

      A large number of black churches shamelessly campaigned for Obama. Urging people to vote along biblical principles is not endorsing a specific candidate like those churches did. Christians have as much right to vote as anyone else. We also don’t lose our right to free speech as a Christian.

      The atheists need to just calm down and leave Christians alone. If you really want to get along, you don’t go around attacking others.

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    • mrwilsonComment by mrwilson
      November 15, 2012 @ 4:36 pm

      Good points, thank you. They have it wrong and it is not against the Constitution but rather their tax exempt status. The Supreme Court ruled that they need not pay taxes because of their “charitable acts.” Well some do and many do not. Many build larger churches, and massive homes for their pastors. Not all are politcal.
      There are two sides to this as well. Those who tithe to their churches can also write that off on their taxes.
      Why stop with churches, which was recently factored at 71 billion dollars untaxed annually.
      Tax all the non-profits, all the 501C3, 4 etc and eliminate the tax write-off. If people want to give it should be because they care and not due to the tax incentives.
      ne gander at the recent tax forms of politcians and the “charities” they gave to are all exclusive to those that are registered with the federal government as a non-profit. Thus by giving one can easily reduce their taxable rate by as much as 25%. A chunk of money that may just ease the debt.

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  2. jthompso53Comment by jthompso53
    November 15, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

    Go ahead… bring on the lawsuit from the IRS. This ancient law has never been enforced and would probably be found unconstitutional because of the 2nd Amendment. Churches are increasingly becoming more vocal in elections hoping that the IRS will try. Should be done before Obama changes the court though.

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    Rating: 3.8/5 (11 votes cast)
  3. tncdelComment by tncdel
    November 15, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

    I actually agree with that group as long as they just as equally want to ban leftwing support from churches as well.

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    Rating: 2.7/5 (7 votes cast)
  4. wallybluComment by wallyblu
    November 15, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

    If we could just get the atheism declared a religion we could do away with the ACLU.

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    Rating: 3.4/5 (7 votes cast)
  5. kpjlawComment by kpjlaw
    November 15, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

    What a hateful and evil bunch of people! Atheists can practice and preach their beliefs – atheism – but why do they have to destroy those people who believe differently? Religious people may try to convert atheists through speech, but Christians are not out to destroy atheists. Get lives, you atheists, and try to be less hateful.

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    • capricorn1Comment by capricorn1
      November 15, 2012 @ 5:31 pm

      atheist will find that stop,drop and roll doesnt work in HELL!

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      Rating: 3.9/5 (7 votes cast)
  6. mrparkerComment by mrparker
    November 15, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    Atheists are hateful and angry people. FFRF involves itself in lawsuits all over the country, that have nothing to do with the liberal hole they live in.

    They’re nothing but a cult like family group (Gaylors) that are right up there with the Westboro “Baptist” Church.

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    Rating: 3.3/5 (6 votes cast)
  7. theoldsargeComment by theoldsarge
    November 15, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

    Like all of us, atheists have a right to their opinion and to voice it. I spent twenty-two years of my life helping to protect those rights. Numerous instances in recorded history tell of atrocities committed in the name or one religious belief or another. Wars, accompanied by atrocities, have been fought over it like the Crusades. There was also the Spanish Inquisition. In more recent time there was the Holocaust of WWII. There are those in the Islamic Communities that want death for all those who don’t believe in Islam and that includes all atheists. In my opinion most atheists seem to be more Anti- Christian and Anti-Semite than anything else. Why does it always seem to be Christians and Jews these atheists go after? How come I never hear of them going against the Muslims Hindus or Buddhists? Put up a Nativity in a public place and they are all over you demanding it be removed. I have seen incidents where atheists have publicly burned Bibles. They should try that with the Koran and see what happens to them. When Muslims close down a street to have a big prayer gathering, it seems the atheists are nowhere to be seen. Christians and Jews are not allowed to pray in public places or schools but Muslims can. Not long after 911 a public school district in California set up Muslim Awareness classes. I have no problem with that as long as they set up awareness classes for the other religions, and for those who don’t believe in any God. Why weren’t the atheists screaming bloody murder about that? I have a few atheist friends that respect my Christian beliefs and also have taught their children to do the same. Them I have no problem with and I don’t try to shove my belief in God and his son Jesus Christ down their throats either. The ones that try to make a public spectacle and try to jam their unbelieving rhetoric down my throat are, in my opinion, nothing more than shameless grand-standers. I challenge them to prove me wrong and go after the other religions just as vigorously as they go after Christians and Jews and show me that they are not the hypocrites I believe they are. The grand-standing atheists are just another group of useful idiots. They are, unwittingly, being used to instigate the break-up of the bonding of the American people and Family Values. That will pave the way for a Muslim take over. If that happens, the atheists will no longer be needed and they can join the many others that have been thrown under the bus. WAKE UP AMERICA!

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  8. smthnsmllsnthewhthowsmstbobaaaamaComment by smthnsmllsnthewhthowsmstbobaaaama
    November 15, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

    The atheists and agnostics need to get some of the old history books and look because this nation was founded by God-fearing, bible-believing, individuals. The United States Constitution was founded by God-fearing bible believers and the bible itself was also used during the time it was conceived. So, they are WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! All they are are nazis and every good and upright judge, if h/she wants to remain free and without being told what to do and how to do it every minute of the day, will tell those ignorant fools that they are wrong and that if they want to doubt that God Almighty and Jesus exist, they can but that they are going to receive a ticket to the communist/socialist country of their choice, escorted to the nearest airport and handcuffed to their seat until the plane lands on the ground at their chosen location. They are nothing more than traitors and they are lucky that it’s not way back when…when people were sent before firing squads. Getting rid of God, Jesus, Christ, believers is the way of the communist, socialist and since they are nazis in disguise, only by name, and they have been steadily working on ridding the nation of the things vital to it’s freedom and existence, isn’t it obvious what is going on here? Muslims, they are nazis. Iran, International Republic of Arian (nazi/neo-nazi) Nations. All of them are in kahoots with one another, for a one world order, world-wide domination is always the mentality of nazis. Satan/Lucifer was a nazi but not until the name came into existence was he known as such.

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  9. stardustmmComment by stardustmm
    November 16, 2012 @ 12:30 am

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness….” America is a spiritual revival as it relates to the administration of government and politics.

    This IRS regulation is selective and arbitrary. They should be modified so that speech is still free as it should be, especially in the pulpit. Just as the Civil Rights Movement had a base at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and it’s greatest influence from a Baptist Minister (MLK Jr.), so our faith is woven into the fabric of this country. You have to lie about history to believe otherwise. History has plenty of examples of governments devoid of religious influence. I prefer America.

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