The Internal Revenue Service has backtracked on a previous denial by granting the tax-exempt status of a Texas faith-based organization in a case that received nationwide attention.
At issue was the request for 501(c)(3) non-profit status by Christians Engaged, an organization that encourages Christians to pray, vote and engage the culture. The IRS, in a May letter, charged that the organization operates “for the private interests” of the Republican Party by promoting the “sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and borders and immigration, U.S. and Israel relations.”
“The bible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates,” the IRS said in May. “This disqualifies you from exemption.”
Stephen A. Martin, a director within the IRS, signed the letter.
First Liberty Institute, which represented Christians Engaged in its appeal to the IRS, announced on Wednesday that the IRS had reversed course and had granted the organization non-profit status.
“This is truly great news for our client, as well as religious organizations and churches across America,” said Lea Patterson, counsel for First Liberty. “We are grateful the IRS changed course to bring its decision into line with the Constitution and its own regulations.”
Bunni Pounds, president of Christians Engaged, also expressed gratitude.
“I am incredibly thankful to the IRS for doing the right thing, and we look forward to continuing our mission of educating more followers of Jesus to pray for our nation and to be civically engaged,” Pounds said. “When we stand up, our republic works for all Americans.”
First Liberty asserted in its appeal letter that Martin erred in three specific ways:
- “he invents a nonexistent requirement that exempt organizations be neutral on public policy issues.”
- “he incorrectly concludes that Christians Engaged primarily serves private, nonexempt purposes rather than public, exempt purposes because he thinks its beliefs overlap with the Republican Party’s policy positions.”
- “he violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech, and Free Exercise, and Establishment clauses by engaging in both viewpoint discrimination and religious discrimination.”
Christians Engaged provides “nonpartisan religious and civic education” that focuses on “encouraging and educating Christians to be civically engaged as a part of their religious practice,” First Liberty said.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.