Top Republicans press IRS after Christian group rejected for nonprofit status

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Republican lawmakers are demanding answers from the IRS after it appeared to disqualify a Christian group for tax-exempt status over its biblical teachings.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas and Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania sent Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig a letter demanding he turn over a trove of records related to groups that were and were not granted tax-exempt status.

At issue is the Texas prayer group, Christians Engaged, which was denied 501(c)(3) status by the IRS in May. In a communique denying the group tax-exempt status, IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Stephen Martin said that the organization was denied tax-exempt status because it is “not operated exclusively for religious and educational purposes” and was “engaged in prohibited campaign invention.”

“You instruct individuals on issues that are prominent in political campaigns and instruct them in what the Bible says about the issue and how they should vote,” Martin wrote. “These issues include the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, and biblical justice. These issues generally distinguish candidates and are associated with political party platforms.”

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He claimed that the information that Christians Engaged presents and information posted on its website is “not neutral,” but the lines that have attracted the most attention from Republican lawmakers are where Martin appears to conclude that because certain biblical teachings are tied to the GOP, the group should not be afforded tax-exempt status.

“You educate Christians on what the Bible says in areas where they can be instrumental including the areas of sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and borders and immigration, U.S. and Israel relations,” the denial letter reads. “The Bible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] Party and candidates. This disqualifies you from exemption under [tax law].”

While Christians Engaged, which is led by conservative activist and former GOP congressional primary candidate Bunni Pounds, has appealed the IRS ruling with the help of First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal group, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not pleased with the IRS’s decision and want answers.

Brady and Kelly wrote that they were “shocked” to read that the IRS associated certain biblical teachings with the Republican Party as part of its determination and pointed out that some Democrats also have strongly held religious beliefs.

They wrote that White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently described President Joe Biden as a “strong man of faith” and said his political beliefs should not be seen “through a political prism.”

“Given the strongly held beliefs in biblical teachings by politicians on both sides of the aisle, it is unfounded to conclude that biblical teachings are affiliated with any particular political party,” the duo said.

The congressmen wrote that other organizations promoting civic-mindedness and voter participation, such as former first lady Michelle Obama’s group When We All Vote, have been granted tax-exempt status. Obama’s organization states that its mission is to “empower our supporters and volunteers to take action through voting, advocating for their rights, and holding their elected officials accountable.”

Brady and Kelly demanded that the IRS provide them with a list of groups that were denied tax-exempt status for being “affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates” since 2019 and a list of groups that were granted tax-exempt status and had a mission of increasing voter participation and civic education.

They also requested a briefing by the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Group about the application evaluation process for granting tax-exempt statuses.

Rettig was given a July 9 deadline to respond to the requests.

Nearly a decade ago, the IRS said that its Exempt Organizations unit targeted conservative tea party groups for added scrutiny. In the letter, Brady and Kelly said that the decision “is particularly concerning given the agency’s prior history of targeting tax exempt groups for additional scrutiny based on their perceived political affiliation.”

A senior congressional aide told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday that Ways and Means Republicans are “laser-focused” on the issue of political bias at the IRS and the weaponization of the IRS — especially considering the White House’s proposal to supercharge the IRS with more authority and funding.

In a separate letter to Rettig this week, more than a dozen other Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, all implored him to review Martin’s decision regarding Christians Engaged personally and remove those responsible for the decision.

“Millions of Americans draw deeply from their religious beliefs to inform how they vote and many religious organizations conduct get out the vote efforts,” they wrote. “The IRS must objectively analyze applications for tax-exempt status and cannot allow political biases to creep into its decisions.”

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Christians Engaged, which claims to be nonpartisan, says its goal is to “awaken, motivate, and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ to: pray for our nation and our elected officials regularly, vote in every election to impact our culture, and engage our hearts in some forms of political education or activism for the furtherance of our nation.”

The Washington Examiner contacted the IRS for comment about the two letters that were sent to Rettig but did not immediately receive a response.

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