Madison, Wisconsin — An atheist activist group from Wisconsin has filed a third lawsuit against the IRS, this time alleging that the federal tax organization is wrongfully engaging in a practice of “preferential treatment of churches.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) states that its main concern is that the organization has had to pay hundreds of dollars to apply for tax-exempt status, while the IRS waives the fee for churches. It also asserts that the IRS unfairly exempts churches from completing Form 990 every year, while FFRF must still file the “onerous” document.
In its complaint, FFRF bemoaned that the organization is required to submit “detailed, intrusive, and expensive annual reports to maintain tax-exempt status, but such reports are not required for churches and certain other affiliated religious organizations.”
“The unfairness of this is so overwhelming,” stated FFRF President Emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor. “Churches are allowed to play by different rules.”
FFRF said that churches should have to submit the form in order to maintain the same financial accountability as other non-profit entities.
“Why should churches be exempt from basic financial reporting requirements? Equally important, why would churches not wish to be accountable?” co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor remarked. “Having tax-exempt status is a great privilege, and in exchange for that privilege, all other groups must file a detailed report annually to the IRS and the public on how we spend donations.”
The organization, along with the Triangle Freethought Society, a chapter of FFRF, is asking the court to declare the exemptions as being a violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.
According to the documentary A Defense of God’s Law, the nation’s decision to allow tax exemption for churches was grounded in Scripture. It cites Ezra 7:24, which outlines, “Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.”
While many churches choose to file for tax exemption, others decline to do so because they would rather pay taxes than forfeit their freedom of speech.
“A church that voluntarily initiates an application to the state for corporate status expects ‘limited liability’ and ‘tax exemption’. It in turn owes to the state its right to exist and prosper,” stated Art Fisher of Reformed Bible Church in Central Islip, New York, who has not applied for tax-exempt status. “It is obvious that its legal status and that of its of its ‘flock’ has been drastically altered.”
“Why are the churches of today almost always found to be incorporated? Why would the churches elect to place themselves under such jurisdiction — to find regulation under governmental franchise preferable to their own Divine law?” he asked. “Are they not in fact serving two masters?”
The lawsuit is the third that the organization has filed over the past year against the IRS. As previously reported, FFRF filed suit against the tax department in November for failing to investigate complaints lodged against a number of churches and religious organizations that had been accused of being involved in “electioneering.” It alleged that many non-profit religious organizations have been “blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions” of the IRS, but the government has not enforced its rules pertaining to the matter.
FFRF also filed suit against the IRS in August over the housing benefits allotted to clergy, also known as the 1954 “parish exemption” granted by Congress. Representative Peter Mack was said to have introduced the law in order to reward ministers for working to fight against “a Godless and anti-religious world movement.”