The Internal Revenue Service allegedly told two pro-life to reveal the content of their prayers and prayer meetings, according to the Thomas More Society.
An IRS office in California ordered Christian Voices for Life of Fort Bend County, Texas to explain the content of prayers “as if they were engaging in highly offensive or criminal behavior,” the Thomas More Society charged.
Agents also ordered Coalition for Life of Iowa to provide detailed information about the group’s prayer meetings.
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) demanded that outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller answer questions about the incidents during Friday’s House Ways and Means Committee hearing. “Their question, specifically asked from the IRS to the Coalition for Life of Iowa: ‘Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers.’”
Shock wanted to know if that was an appropriate question for the IRS to ask.
“It pains me to say I can’t speak to that one either,” Miller replied.
The agents also told one of the pro-life groups that they could not picket or protest abortion clinics.
“The IRS was concerned about advocacy,” said Sally Wagenmaker, special counsel to the Thomas More Society. “The (agent) said picketing and protesting is not allowed.”
She said the IRS’s role “should only be to determine whether organizations fit the section 501(c)(3) test for ‘charitable, religious, or educational’ qualification, not to inquire about the content of prayers, protests, and petitions.”
It’s high time that the IRS be called to account for its workers’ potential to trample on our constitutional rights, through such ostensibly innocuous means,” Wagenmaker said – hinting that this may only be the tip of the iceberg of IRS abuses.
An IRS spokesman said they would look into the cases.
Wagenmaker was representing Coalition for Life of Iowa and Christian Voices For Life of Fort Bend County, Texas. Both groups were seeking tax exempt status. Their requests were eventually granted but only after they sought legal help from the Thomas More Society.
In 2009 the Coalition for Life received correspondence from the IRS raising questions about their prayer activity – specifically outside Planned Parenthood clinics.
“You then asked … to have all Coalition Board members sign a statement that the coalition will not ‘picket’ or ‘protest’ outside of Planned Parenthood or similar organizations and will not ‘organize’ others to do so,” Wagenmaker wrote in a letter to an IRS representative known only as “Ms. Richards.”
Wagenmaker said the IRS’s demand was clearly a violation of the pro-life group’s constitutional rights.
“It really concerned me there would seem to be this protection of Planned Parenthood,” Wagenmaker told Fox News. “They had revenues of $55 million and the Coalition is just a group of volunteers.”
The attorney wrote in her letter to the IRS that their demands “come perilously close to violating the First Amendment constitutional rights of the Coalition’s supporters.”
“The IRS’s delay and questioning of the Coalition’s tax-exempt, legitimate activities constitutes unnecessary and prejudicial interference with the Coalition’s legal right to a tax-exempt determination,” she wrote.
Wagenmaker said the IRS’s dogged pursuit of the Coalition was “intimidating” and “heavy-handed.”
In the case of Christian Voices, the IRS implied that the group had to include pro-abortion balance to their programming.
They were directed to explain whether the group’s educational programs educate both sides of the issues.
“Your question implies some sort of legal duty to provide a balanced presentation of educational information,” the attorney wrote.
She said it was incredible to think that the government wanted to require a pro-life group to give equal access to pro-choice groups.
“You can’t push an organization around like that,” she said. “You can’t impose your own out-dated, improper, unconstitutional views.”
Shortly after Wagenmaker began pushing back – the groups got their exemptions approved.
“They just needed someone to stand up for their rights and push back,” she said.