The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) denied tax-exempt status to a Texas Christian non-profit last month, arguing it was not eligible for 501(c)(3) status in part because "Bible teachings are typically affiliated with the Republican party and candidates."
Christians Engaged, an organization dedicated to educate and empower Christians to pray for the nation and elected officials, vote, and be civically engaged, was denied the tax exemption in a letter from IRS Exempt Organizations Director Stephen A. Martin.
First Liberty Institute, a religious rights law firm, is representing Christians Engaged and has appealed the IRS's decision.
Christians Engaged incorporated in July 2019 as a Texas nonprofit corporation "formed exclusively for charitable, religious, educational, or scientific purposes." From its religious perspective, the organization provides nonpartisan religious and civic education, focusing on encouraging and educating Christians to be engaged citizens as a part of their religious practice. Christians Engaged applied for tax-exempt status in late 2019.
On its website, the organization states it is educational, Christian, and non-partisan.
"Specifically, you educate Christians on what the Bible says in areas where they can be instrumental including the areas of the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and borders and immigration, U.S. and Israel relations," Martin wrote. "The Bible teachings are typically affiliated with the Republican party and candidates. This disqualifies you from exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3)."
In its administrative appeal letter to the IRS, First Liberty wrote, "By finding that Christians Engaged does not meet the operational test, Director Martin errs in three ways: 1) he invents a nonexistent requirement that exempt organizations be neutral on public policy issues; 2) 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; and 3) he violates the First Amendment's Free Speech, and Free Exercise, and Establishment clauses by engaging in both viewpoint discrimination and religious discrimination."
Lea Patterson, counsel for First Liberty Institute, said the IRS has violated its own regulations.
"The IRS states in an official letter that Biblical values are exclusively Republican. That might be news to President Biden, who is often described as basing his political ideology on his religious beliefs," Patterson said. "Only a politicized IRS could see Americans who pray for their nation, vote in every election and work to engage others in the political process as a threat. The IRS violated its own regulations in denying tax-exempt status because Christians Engaged teaches biblical values."
In response to the IRS denial, Christians Engaged President Bunni Pounds said, "We just want to encourage more people to vote and participate in the political process. How can anyone be against that?"