I wrote last year about a lawsuit that was brought by the group Freedom From Religion Foundation to require the IRS to enforce its current rule against religious organizations that engage in direct politicking and revoke their tax exempt status if they were found to be engaged in blatant politicking.
Meanwhile some religious organizations have felt that the rule itself is unconstitutional and have sought to challenge it by organizing an annual event known as Pulpit Sunday in which explicitly political sermons endorsing political candidates were made and the tapes sent to the IRS, daring them to revoke their tax-exempt status.
The IRS seems to want to duck this issue and filed a motion to dismiss the FFRF lawsuit, saying that taxpayers usually have no standing to sue other taxpayers over their tax status. But a federal judge has rejected that argument and said that the FFRF does have standing, although some observers think that FFRF will ultimately lose the case.
On Monday (Aug. 19), U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Wisconsin denied the motion, writing that FFRF “has standing to seek an order requiring the IRS to treat religious organizations no more favorably than it treats the Foundation.”
Observers found the judge’s decision significant because similar attempts in the past have failed. For instance, groups have tried to sue over the Catholic Church’s involvement in anti-abortion activism. “It is a tactic that’s been used before, but without success,” said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. “I can’t see it going anywhere.”
“The case is interesting but it remains to be seen how significant it is,” said Erik Stanley of ADF. “I will be surprised if FFRF is ultimately successful.”
(Incidentally the article does not mention that ADF stands for the Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative religious anti-gay group.)
Although I am not a lawyer, I argued before that this is one of those cases where the Establishment Clause may actually favor the churches’ position that politicking should not threaten their tax exempt status. As I said in a different post, the ultimate and best solution would be to eliminate the tax-exempt status for all non-profits, not just religious ones, because the current system is so easy to abuse.