Top House Republicans Seek Treasury IG Probe of IRS Denial of Faith Group’s Exempt Application

By Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Congressional Correspondent
HillFaith Founding Editor, Congressional Correspondent for The Epoch Times, FOIA Hall of Fame, Reaganaut, Okie/Texan.
June 30, 2021 Updated: June 30, 2021

A trio of key House Republicans are asking the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to investigate the IRS’ recent denial of a Texas Christian group’s tax-exemption application.

“The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) appears to be engaging again in viewpoint discrimination. According to a recent report, the IRS improperly denied tax-exempt status to a religious group on the basis that ‘bible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates,’” the trio told TIGTA J. Russell Moore in a June 30 letter obtained by The Epoch Times.

“Over 10 years after the IRS began targeting Tea Party groups, it seems the IRS could be up to its old tricks. We ask that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) immediately review this matter.”

The signers of the letter include Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee; Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the top GOP member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), of the oversight panel’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.

Inspectors General like TIGTA are oversight units created by Congress in 1978 with deep investigative and auditing authority and resources to assess the operations of federal departments and agencies.

The IRS denial of the tax-exemption application of the Texas-based Christians Engaged was first reported by The Epoch Times. The group encourages Christians from all denominations to pray for all American civic leaders, regardless of party; to be informed on political issues and biblical values; and to vote.

Christians Engaged is represented by the First Liberty Institute, a Plano, Texas-based public interest law firm that specializes in religious liberty litigation.

The IRS denial was communicated in a May 18 letter from Stephen Martin, who heads the federal tax agency’s Exempt Organizations Division.

Christians Engaged was denied because “Bible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates. This disqualifies you from exemption under [Internal Revenue Code] 501(c)(3),” Martin wrote.

But in doing so, Martin committed multiple constitutional wrongs, according to the three Republicans.

“The IRS’s denial of tax-exempt status to Christians Engaged on the assumption that Bible teaching is an activity ‘typically’ associated with Republicans is wrong and outrageous,” the signers wrote.

“Federal law allows a religious group to obtain tax-exempt status. IRS regulations permit a tax-exempt organization to ‘take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office.’

“Christians Engaged is not affiliated with a specific political party or candidate. The group’s religious teachings and educational material do not amount to support for a specific political party or candidate.”

In addition, the signers pointed out an example of what they describe as “viewpoint discrimination.”

“The IRS’s ruling violates fundamental First Amendment rights of citizens affiliated with Christians Engaged. The IRS granted former First Lady Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote organization 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. This group encourages its ‘supporters and volunteers to take action through voting, advocating for their rights, and holding their elected officials accountable,'” the letter reads.

“The IRS’s denial of tax-exempt status to Christians Engaged while granting exempt status to another organization that ‘encourage[s] civic engagement from different viewpoints’ demonstrates the IRS’s impermissible viewpoint discrimination.’”

The signers asked Moore to investigate the IRS decision and report his findings to Congress.

“We must ensure the IRS is not reverting back to its targeting of conservative tax-exempt groups. Government agencies that work for the American public should not be in the business of violating citizens’ constitutional rights,” the letter reads.

The IRS under Lois Lerner, Martin’s predecessor, became embroiled in a national scandal that prompted multiple congressional and media investigations when it targeted Tea Party, evangelical, and conservative tax-exemption applicants during the 2010 and 2012 elections.

The targeted groups were subjected to long delays and repeated requests for detailed information about the beliefs and activities of officials associated with the groups.

Multiple lawsuits were filed against the IRS by such groups, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed in two separate settlements to compensate them for undisclosed amounts.

The DOJ also acknowledged that the IRS had targeted the groups on the basis of their political and religious activities and beliefs for “heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays.”

But Martin’s explicit denial of the Christians Engaged application because biblical principles allegedly only benefit Republicans and that praying by Christians on behalf of civic leaders represents partisan political activity represents an overt attack on constitutional principles, according to Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.).

“The act of praying for our country and our leaders is about the most nonpartisan and patriotic thing that Americans can do. Millions of citizens do it every day,” Budd told The Epoch Times on June 16.

“The IRS was wrong to deny tax-exempt status based on the false belief that the Bible somehow only belongs to one political party. The IRS still has a long way to go to ensure religious liberty for all.”

Congressional correspondent Mark Tapscott may be contacted at mark.tapscott@epochtimes.nyc.

Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Congressional Correspondent
HillFaith Founding Editor, Congressional Correspondent for The Epoch Times, FOIA Hall of Fame, Reaganaut, Okie/Texan.