Religious and pro-life groups also harassed by IRS

The popular impression is that President Barack Obama’s Internal Revenue Service harassed only tea party and patriot-like groups seeking tax-exempt status.

If it were only so.

Allegations of IRS harassment of pro-life and religious groups reach as far back as Obama’s early administration and extend beyond the agency’s Cincinnati office, which is the focus of the alleged intimidation of patriot groups.

The charges of broader religious and political bias have been made for four years by the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based, public interest law firm specializing in issues of life, marriage and religious liberty. On Friday, the group outlined the attacks against three pro-life groups in a 151-page memo to U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill. It said:

• The IRS office in El Monte, Calif., began harassing Christian Voices for Life of Sugar Land, Texas, when it sought tax-free status under provision 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code. The IRS held up the group’s application while asking such “inappropriate” questions under the code as whether the group advocates a particular position or holds up signs. It also demanded an explanation of the content of its message and prayers, as if the group “were engaging in highly offensive or criminal behavior.”

Coalition for Life of Iowa applied for tax-exempt status in October 2008, before Obama’s inauguration. But it was followed by almost 10 months of interrogation about the group’s opposition to Planned Parenthood. The IRS Cincinnati’s office demanded a sworn declaration not to picket or protest Planned Parenthood. It also requested detailed information about the “content of the group’s prayer meetings, educational seminars, and signs their members hold outside Planned Parenthood.” [UPDATE. (More details from a coalition statement):

Coalition for Life of Iowa was founded in 2004. We have organized and sponsored educational forums. As we grew, we sought 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. We submitted Form 1023 to the IRS in October of 2008. After a few communications with our exempt organizations specialist and the responses from her supervisor/supervisors, the IRS agent indicated what we could not do. In June of 2009, she said we needed to send in a letter with the entire board’s signatures stating that under perjury of the law we would not picket/protest or organize groups to picket/protest outside of Planned Parenthood. Upon receiving such a letter, the IRS would allow our application to go through. When we requested where in the Form 1023 it stated we could not protest at Planned Parenthood, the IRS never answered our question.

• Finally, an IRS agent in its Chicago office “repeatedly harassed Daniel and Angela Michael of Small Victories, a pro-life organization, with an intrusive investigation, calling the leaders every two to three weeks over the course of 2011, beginning in January of that year. The IRS officially closed its investigation in January 2012, having found no illegal activities.”

The Religion News Service reports these additional attacks:

Catholics United Education Fund, an affiliate of the progressive Catholics United, which had an application that it said had “languished for years” before being approved.

Family Talk Action, the advocacy arm of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization, which said its application for 501(c)(4) status was delayed and questioned between 2011 and 2013.

Z Street, a conservative Jewish organization has a federal court hearing on July 2 after suing the IRS for viewpoint discrimination.

Schock pressed acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller at Friday’s House Ways and Means Committee whether it was appropriate for the agency to ask: “‘Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers.’ Would that be an appropriate question to a 501(c)(3) applicant? The content of one’s prayers?”

Miller: “Speaking outside of this case, which I don’t know anything about, it would surprise me that that question was asked.”

Schock followed it up: “And finally during another applicant’s conversation or back and forth they were asked specifically, ‘Please detail certain signs that may or may not be held up outside of a Planned Parenthood facility.’ Would that be an appropriate follow up to an applicant for 501(c)(3) application?” Miller responded that he did not know the context but that it did not “sound like the usual question.”

The government asking what our religious beliefs are, or asking what and when we are going to protest are just a few of the constitutional and civil rights violations that occurred during the president’s administration.

So was it a coincidence that rogue IRS agents just happened to target the president’s so-called enemies during his term? Or were they instructed to do so by “midlevel managers?” Senior IRS managers knew of the complaints a couple of years ago; did they neglect to tell their senior Treasury officials who just happened to neglect to inform the president? The choices are not good.

But since tax-exempt organizations are coming under scrutiny, perhaps it’s time for a closer look at how outfits like Planned Parenthood of Illinois, a 501(c)(3) organization, can get away helping to raise money for its political action arm, Planned Parenthood Political Action, a 501(c)(4) group.

So, how interesting is this: Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ website reveals that it took a mere three months in 2008 for the IRS to approve its tax-exempt status.

More to come. Definitely.

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