The so-called Johnson Amendment to the U.S. Tax Code bars or limits non-profits with tax-exempt status from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Though the IRS typically doesn’t enforce this law against churches, it has the power to investigate churches. This power includes regulating sermons.
The atheists of the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming that the agency ignores churches that violate the law.
After the IRS said it would adopt new protocols and procedures for investigating churches, the atheists dropped the lawsuit.
But that didn’t settle the issue.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal organization that seeks to protect religious freedom, wants to see the IRS’s records in the deal it made with atheists. After a Freedom of Information request yielded unsatisfactory results, the ADF last week asked a federal court to order the IRS to release the records or justify why it won’t.
“The IRS is not above the law, and Americans deserve to know the truth about the agency’s secret deals with activists,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “The IRS has a legal obligation to explain why it is hiding things or else produce the documents. Its ongoing refusal to follow the law is absurd, particularly since much of we are asking for is information that the IRS has already provided voluntarily to Freedom From Religion Foundation.”
As Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton notes, the public certainly has a right to know how the government investigates “the practice of our basic First Amendment freedoms.”
Part of what’s fueling the atheists is the “Pulpit Freedom” movement, in which pastors defy what they consider violations of their right to worship and to speak in their churches without government interference.