WASHINGTON, D.C. – After a sharp rebuke from Utah Sen. Mike Lee and congressional colleagues, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has reversed a controversial decision that threatened religious freedom.
That criticism came in the form of a June 25 letter to IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig that accused his agency of allowing political biases to impact its decision-making. That letter was signed by Lee and 14 other members of Congress.
“I am glad to see that, after receiving our letter, the IRS reversed course on what would have been a dangerous and discriminatory decision,” Lee said after being informed of the IRS concession. “Religious groups must be free to teach their beliefs without fear of government retaliation.”
At the center of the controversy was a non-profit organization called Christians Engaged that was incorporated in Texas in 2019. The group professes to “awaken, motivate, educate and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ … through weekly prayer time, church engagement, voter registration drives and various educational activities.”
While Christians Engaged has declared itself to be non-partisan, IRS director of Exempt Organizations Stephen Martin ruled in May that the organization does not quality for tax exempt status because its “ … bible teachings are typically affiliated with the (Republican) party and candidates.”
Martin also alleged that members of Christians Engaged were participating in “prohibited political campaign intervention” because their views on the “sanctity of life, the definition of marriage and biblical justice” were often “associated with political party platforms.”
The congressmen responded by criticizing Martin’s ruling that core Christian beliefs were inherently political as “patently absurd.”
“If the IRS applied this interpretation broadly,” they countered, “it would jeopardize the tax exempt status of thousands of Christian churches across the country.”
Their June 25 letter also pointed out that President Joe Biden drew heavily on the support of many church leaders, primarily in the South, during the 2020 presidential campaign.
The June 25 letter to Rittig demanded that the IRS director personally reconsider the tax exempt status of Christians Engaged and discipline IRS staff members involved in the previous “flawed and politically motivated” ruling.
“Religious prejudice should never be tolerated, especially from our federal institutions,” according to Utah Rep. Burgess Owens (R-4th District), who was among the signatories of the June 25 letter. “I’m glad to see that this biased determination was reviewed and corrected.”
In addition to Lee and Owens, the members of Congress who signed the June 25 letter to Rittig included senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) as well as representatives Chip Roy (R-TX), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Louis Gohmert (R-TX), Daniel Webster (R-FL), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Dan Bishop (R-NC), Yvette Herrell (R-NM), Ted Budd (R-NC), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Bob Good (R-VA).