First Batch of Records from 7,000-Page Cache Uncovered Last Month
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch today released 695 pages of new documents from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that contain admissions by IRS officials that the agency used “inappropriate political labels” to screen the tax-exempt applications of conservative organizations. Other records reveal that the IRS was going to require 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations to restrict their alleged political activities in exchange for “expedited consideration” of their tax-exempt applications.
The documents were produced after a revelation by the IRS that it had located “an additional 6,924 documents of potentially responsive records” relating to a 2015 Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit about the Obama IRS targeting scandal. The FOIA lawsuit seeks records about the IRS’ selection of individuals and organizations for audits based upon applications requesting nonprofit tax status filed by Tea Party and other 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations (Judicial Watch v. Internal Revenue Service (No. 1:15-cv-00220)).
Of the 695 pages of documents released by the IRS, 422 (61%) were withheld in their entirety. These newly identified records are not records that were contained in the “Congressional Database,” which the IRS created in 2013 to house records responsive to congressional inquiries into the IRS scandal.
Included among the newly released a material is a June 20, 2013, memo from Karen Schiller, then-Acting Director, EO Rulings and Agreement, suspending use of the controversial Be on the Lookout (BOLO) and Touch and Go (TAG) lists:
EO Rulings and Agreements is undertaking a comprehensive review of screening and identification of critical issues. We intend to develop proper procedures and uses for these types of documents. Until a more formal process for identification, approval and distribution of this type of data is established, Rulings and Agreements will not use this technique to elevate issues.
In an August 9, 2013, memo, Schiller admitted the IRS used political labels in targeting the groups for special scrutiny and possible audit and that, going forward, the agency would screen organizations based only on their activities, “not words” or “labels of any kind:”
As Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel has said, the IRS has taken decisive action to eliminate the use of inappropriate political labels in the screening of 501(c)(4) applications. IRS policy is now clear that screening is based on activity, not words in a name. The new steps and current policies were outlined in the June 24 report, which noted: “In the absence of BOLO lists, the Determinations Unit will continue to screen for information affecting the determination of applications for tax exempt status, including activity tied to political campaign intervention, but it [will] be done without regard to specific labels of any kind.” The 30-day report also reflects the June 20, 2013 memorandum, which was issued to officially suspend the use of the BOLO list in the screening process.
The documents also include a “Dear [Applicant]” letter which offers an “expedited process” for 501(c)(4)s in exchange for restriction on their activities:
This optional expedited process is currently available only to applicants for 501(c)(4) status with applications pending for more than 120 days as of May 28, 2013, that indicate the organization may be involved in political campaign intervention.
In this optional process, an organization will represent that it satisfies, and will continue to satisfy, set percentages with respect to the level of its social welfare activities and political campaign intervention activities (as defined in the specific instructions on pages 5-7). These percentage representations are not an interpretation of law but are a safe harbor for those organizations that choose to participate in the optional process.
On September 30, 2013, Acting Director, Exempt Organizations, Kenneth C. Corbin, sent a memo to IRS staff providing detailed guidance on classifying applications when “‘merit approval’ is not an option,” emphasizing that the determination is to be based on “facts and circumstances,” not “words and labels:”
Classifier reviews the application and determines if it should be routed to a specialty group. This determination is based upon facts and circumstances of the stated activities within Part II of the application rather than names or labels. This is consistent with Karen Schiller’s August 9, 2013 memorandum …
The Schiller and Corbin memos came on the heels of the May 14, 2013, Inspector General report revealing that the IRS had singled out groups using conservative-sounding terms such as “patriot” and “Tea Party” when applying for tax-exempt status. The IG probe determined that “Early in Calendar Year 2010, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status (e.g., lists of past and future donors)” and “delayed processing of targeted groups’ applications” in advance of the 2012 presidential election.
Of the 422 withheld pages, 98% (all but nine) cited the FOIA “deliberative process” provision under FOIA Exemption 5.
“No wonder the Obama IRS has been hiding these records. The new smoking-gun documents contain admissions by the Obama IRS that it inappropriately targeted conservative groups,” said Judicial Watch President, Tom Fitton. “But the records also show that the abuse continued – as the Obama IRS tried to force conservative applicants to give up their First Amendment rights in order to finally get their applications granted.”
Previously, Judicial Watch released IRS documents containing email correspondence dated April 2, 2013, from former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations, Lois Lerner, to internal IRS investigators revealing the inappropriate BOLO criteria used to select conservative organizations for screening and scrutiny:
The screening [Cincinnati field office] group manager asked his employees how they were applying the BOLO’s short-hand reference to “tea party.” His employees responded that they were including organizations meeting any of the following criteria as falling within the BOLO’s reference to “tea party” organizations: “1. ‘Tea Party’, ‘Patriots’ or ‘9/12 Project’ is referenced in the case file. 2. Issues include government spending, government debt and taxes. 3. Educate the public through advocacy/legislative activities to make America a better place to live. 4. Statements in the case file that are critical of the how the country is being run …”
• $6 trillion in new national debt under Obama…after he promised to decrease the deficit.
• Obamacare — A massive and incredibly convoluted bill which exponentially increases the federal government’s control over our personal lives…which neither Obama nor a single Democrat even read before passing, and which will likely bankrupt the nation.
• In both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, the Obama campaign purposely disabled the credit card verification system for its Web site donations, allowing anyone from any foreign country to donate with no limit and no proof of identity; in both elections it was demonstrated that people overseas and people with obviously false identities were able to donate to Obama campaign, in direct violation of several laws. To this day it is not known what percentage of Obama’s campaign funds are illegally obtained, since there is no documentation.
• Billions of taxpayer dollars gambled on “green” companies like Solyndra, NextEra, Ener1, Solar Trust and many others — all of which went bankrupt.
• An intentional refusal to enforce federal immigration laws.
• Unemployment at or above 8% for almost his entire term in office (which was actually closer to 15% actual unemployment).
• Operation Fast & Furious — a government-sponsored illegal gun-running scheme designed to purposely go awry so as to induce public outcry for gun control.
• Spent 20 years listening to a racist anti-American pastor (Rev. Jeremiah Wright), whom Obama described as a mentor. On March 18, 2008, Obama gave a speech in which he said “I could no more disown Jeremiah Wright than I could disown my own grandmother” and “[Wright’s church, Trinity United] embodies the black community in its entirety.” Now Obama tries to pretend that Jeremiah Wright doesn’t exist, and that his extremist anti-white philosophy didn’t influence Obama’s worldview.
• Increased the percentage of Americans dependent on food stamps to unprecedented levels (now over 15% of the nation’s population).
• Militarily intervened in Libya in 2011 without the Congressional approval required by the War Powers Act — technically an impeachable offense.
• Before he entered politics, Obama worked as a lawyer suing banks in landmark cases, forcing them to give home loans to unqualified minority borrowers — a practice now understood as one of the primary initial causes of the eventual housing bubble and market collapse.
• Handed out over 1,200 waivers to politically connected donors exempting them from the onerous requirements of Obamacare.
• Greatly expanding the number of unaccountable “czars,” which essentially amounts to unilaterally adding new federal departments with no congressional oversight — leading to a true “bureaucracy” in the original sense (rule by unelected bureaucrats).
• Using taxpayer dollars to bail out the private pension funds of autoworkers’ unions at GM & Chrysler.• Illegally ending the welfare-to-work requirements passed by Congress.
• Doling out $800 billion in stimulus cash for “shovel-ready” jobs that didn’t exist — the money just evaporated with no measurable economic benefit.
• Alienating and isolating Israel, our strongest ally in the Middle East.
• Apologizing to Islamists and terrorists for offending them.
• Under Obama’s watch, for the first time in history America’s credit rating was downgraded, due to his poor economic policies.
• Stopped American oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, allowing other nations with worse environmental records to drill instead — thereby managing to both weaken our economy and damage the environment simultaneously.
• Proposed in 2008 to intentionally bankrupt the coal industry — and now lies to voters and workers in coal-producing regions about his true intent.
• Pretends to be concerned about skyrocketing energy prices, when in fact he vowed to increase them on purpose (so as to make alternative energy schemes more competitive.)
• In a primary debate against Hillary Clinton in 2008, Obama said he would never force people to buy health insurance, since those without it couldn’t afford to buy it. Less than two years later, he rammed through Obamacare, which does indeed force people to buy health insurance.
• During the 2008 campaign, Obama repeatedly promised that if he was elected “No family making less than $250,000 will see any form of tax increase.” This promise was broken over and over again once he was elected.
• In 2008 Obama vowed if elected to increase security along the U.S.-Mexican border — and then in 2010 stopped construction of a “virtual fence” on the border and re-routed money earmarked for border security to other projects.
• Cash for Clunkers, which doled out taxpayer money to anyone who wanted to replace their old cars, but which mostly only ended up subsidizing the puchase of foreign-made cars by people who could have afforded them on their own anyway; meanwhile, the traded-in cars were all destroyed, creating a shortage and thereby increasing the cost of used cars, hurting the pocketbooks of poor people.
• Violated the U.S. Constitution by authorizing assassinations and drone strikes to kill American citizens abroad — without due process.
• Was caught on a “hot mike” promising the President of Russia that he would cave in to their demands for a weaker missile shield — after he was re-elected and no longer had to keep up the pretense that he sought to defend America.
• Appointed Van Jones, a former avowed communist who supported a “9/11 Truth” petition, to be “Green Jobs Czar.”
• Appointed Anita Dunn, who said Chairman Mao was her “favorite philosopher,” to be White House Communications Director.
• Appointed John Holdren, who perviously entertained the notion of forced mass sterilzation to stop overpopulation, to be Science Czar.
• Appointed Steven Chu, who openly advocated an artificial increase in gasoline prices to $10/gallon (and similar increases in other energy prices) to be Secretary of Energy.
• Appointed Kevin Jennings, who led a group that promoted X-rated “sex-positive” textbooks for 13-year-olds, instructed teenagers at a conference how to perform “fisting” (anal penetration by fists), who refused to report instances of statutory rape, and who expressed admiration for a member of NAMBLA, to be America’s “Safe School’s Czar.”
• When states voted to enforce the federal immigration laws which the federal government refused to enforced, Obama sued to stop them.
• Blocked continued construction of the Keystone Pipeline, thereby intentionally reducing energy resources for the US and forcing Canada to sell more of its oil to China.
• Repeatedly changed his position on gay marriage over the years, depending on what was politically expedient at the moment and which intended audience he was addressing.
• Before he was president, Obama staunchly opposed raising the national debt limit — but once elected, he insisted that it be raised.
• When giving a 2009 speech in France that he must have assumed Americans would never hear, he described the United States as “arrogant” and “dismissive” (while also criticizing Europe elsewhere in the speech).
• When states tried to stop election fraud with voter ID laws, Obama sued to prevent them from doing so.
• Instructed Attorney General Eric Holder to stonewall any investigation into the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panthers.
• Promised in 2008 that once elected he would officially recognize the Armenian Genocide; but to this date he has still failed to do so, caving in to threats and pressure from Turkey.
• Vowed to end the influence of lobbyists in Washington, but under Obama’s watch their influence has only increased.
• When he was first running for President, Obama promised, “I will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.” Needless to say, he has broken that promise with almost every bill he has signed since.
• Aided and abetted the “Arab Spring” which deposed existing secular governments across North Africa, leading to a regional power vacuum which was filled by Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other hardline Islamists.
• Refused to provide assistance or support the the earlier secular Iranian democracy uprising, allowing them to be crushed by the Islamic fundamentalist Iranian regime.
• In his first months in office, Obama bowed to the king of Saudi Arabia, the president of China, the Emperor of Japan, and President of Mexico, among others.
• Ordered NASA to make one of its top priorities not space exploration or scientific research but “Muslim outreach.”
• Used Obamacare as a pretext to greatly increase the size and power of the IRS (which was given 16,000 new agents and additional mandates to penalize taxpayers for noncompliance).
• Used the IRS to harass conservative businesses.
• In the GM bailout, he illegally shortchanged investors who according to bankruptcy laws were first in line to be recompensed; instead, he gave their share to the unions.
• Shut down oil drilling in the US, but then turned around and lent $2 billion to Brazil to support their government-controlled oil-drilling effort — and then promised the US would become one of Brazil’s biggest oil customers.
• Sued Boeing in an effort to control where businesses could locate, kowtow to the unions, and block the creation of 1,000 jobs in South Carolina, a right-to-work (i.e. no forced unionization) state.
• Adopted a longstanding Socialist political slogan, “Forward!”, as his 2012 campaign motto.
• Sent insulting form letters to the familes of dead SEALs.
• Neither disavowed nor distanced himself from anti-Romney campaign ads which threatened or implied violence against Republicans.
• Shortly after the recent eruption of anti-American violence in North Africa, Obama went to Las Vegas to do his debate preparation in a hotel…with a romanticized North Africa theme.
• Said in an interview that the Muslim call to prayer was “one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset.”
• Union boss and far-left activist Andy Stern has visitied Obama in the White House at least 53 times, at last count — greater access than any other private citizen.
• Hosted at the White House many Islamist members of groups associated with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.
• Sponsored performances by and attended fundraisers with radical rappers like Michael Franti and Common, both of whose lyrics have in some cases been anti-police, anti-white, and anti-America.
• Hired Timothy Geithner, who is documented as cheating on his own personal taxes, to be Secretary of the Treasury.
• Told Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher that it was good to “spread the wealth around.”
• Told small business owners nationwide in a 2012 speech that “you didn’t build that” — implying that they should not claim credit for their own success, since taxpayers (i.e. themselves and other business owners) had funded the national infrastructure.
• Insulted the British people by rudely returning to them a bust of Churchill which previously had been a ceremonial gift on display at the White House; when later confronted on this inexplicable action, he lied about it.
• Canceled plans to complete a missile defense shield in Poland, a move which was highly praised by Russia — the very nation whose missile threat would have been neutralized if the shield had been completed.
• By loudly publicizing (for personal political gain) the identity of exact SEAL teams who had killed Osama bin Laden, Obama made them a target for reprisals by Islamists; a short time later 22 SEALS were shot down and killed in Afghanistan, their worst loss of life ever.
• Established an extra-Constitutional top secret “kill list” of people (including Americans) Obama claims the right to kill on sight, and then bragged about it publicly.
• Set up a special email account, “Flag@Whitehouse.gov,” to which Americans were supposed to inform the government of anyone they heard spreading “disinformation” about Obama’s health care overhaul. (This was the first of three different “spy on your friends and neighbors” programs.)
• “Attack Watch” was Obama’s second Big Brother attempt, a Web site on which you would report “attacks” on Obama’s proposals and ideology; it was quickly shut down due to outrage and mockery.
• Finally, Obama set up the “Truth Team” program which encouraged citizens to report to the government any friends or relatives they hear repeating “lies” about Obama. The Truth Team site still exists.
• Twisted the arms of defense contractors to not issue layoff notices in early November, so as to avoid causing bad news for Obama right before the election — even though federal law (the “WARN Act”) requires such notices.
• After the attacks on American interests in North Africa on September 11, 2012, Obama gave a speech to the U.N. and declared “The future must not belong to those who slander The Prophet of Islam” — transferring the blame from the attackers onto the makers of a film trailer that supposedly “offended” the Islamists.
• Repeatedly snubbed and got into public tiffs with Benjamin Netanyahu, who as the leader of Israel is supposed to be Obama’s closest colleague in international affairs.
• On May 19, 2011, Obama told Israel they must return to the 1967 borders as a pre-condition for continuing talks with the Palestinians — even though the status of the borders was the main issue the talks were supposed to address.
• Encouraged politically biased hiring practices in the Justice Department.
• Soon after taking office, Obama rescinded the “Mexico City Policy,” which previously had banned NGOs which are supported by American taxpayer funds from using those funds to perform abortions in foreign countries.
• Attempted to force returning veterans to pay huge increases for their health coverage…as a way to generate more funding for his Obamacare provisions.
• In June of 2011, he anointed his own underage daughters as “senior staff members” so that their vacation to Africa would be paid for with taxpayer money.
• Interviews with high school classmates revealed that Obama was a heavy and frequent user of marijuana in his teenage years (not to mention his self-admitted cocaine use in college).
• Played over 100 rounds of golf during his first three years in office, meaning that he was on the links close to 10% of the days he has been president.
• Voted to allow post-birth abortions (i.e. facilitating the deaths of babies who survive late-term abortions) not just once but three times in a row as an Illinois state senator.
• The pastor whom Obama selected to give the national benediction at his 2009 inauguration recently declared that “all white people are going to Hell.”
• Sided with Hugo Chavez and the Castro regime regarding the Honduran Constitutional Crisis of 2009, the first time ever that the U.S. formed a political alliance with socialist governments in Latin America.
• Obama Administration OKed the nomination of Chas Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council (which coordinates intelligence reports from all government agencies), despite the fact that he was openly hostile to Israel and strongly favored Arabist goals. (He later withdrew under pressure.)
• Chinese pianist Lang Lang played an offensively anti-American song at a 2011 White House dinner where Obama hosted Chinese president Hu Jintao, to the delight and amazement of the communist Chinese visitors, while Obama just sat there and smiled (the song’s Chinese lyrics describe Americans as “warmongering jackals”).
• There was a great deal of (still unverified) suspicion that the company LightSquared received favorable treatment from the Obama administration for approval of its broadband technology which interfered with the GPS system; an Air Force general claimed he was pressured by the Obama administration to downplay his criticism of LightSquared’s technology in sworn testimony.
• Obama’s Department of Energy awarded $529 million to Fisker Automotive to build their Karma hybrid electric cars — even though they are manufactured in Finland, cost over $100,000 each, and tend to explode.
• When Inspector General Gerald Walpin discovered during a 2009 investigation that one of Obama’s political allies (the mayor of Sacramento) was misusing government funds for personal gain, Obama unceremoniously fired Walpin — even though rooting out fraud was the job description of the Inspector General.
• More than once Obama made so-called “recess appointments” when the Senate was not actually in recess, which directly violates Constitutional rules about how appointments must be made; in each case it was his way of getting his political allies into certain key positions without them being vetted or approved by the Senate, as required.
• After Nidal Malik Hasan massacred 13 people at Fort Hood while shouting “Allahu Akbar” so as to become a martyr for Islam, the Obama administration refused to classify his action as “terrorism” and instead deemed it merely “workplace violence.”
• Despite the fact that the Falkland Islands have been part of Great Britain since 1833 and that Great Britain is supposed to be our strongest ally, Obama essentially sided with Argentina in its new claim on the Falklands, not only by adopting the Argentine position that their status is open to negotiation, but even by (attempting to) refer to the islands by their Spanish name (Malvinas).
• Convened the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (a.k.a. the Simpson-Bowles commission) in order to address a major economic crisis…and then summarily dismissed and ignored their recommendations.
• Criticized the Supreme Court’s legal reasoning (about the Citizen’s United decision) during a State of the Union address, which many considered a dangerous precedent as it appeared to place political pressure on the court, violating the Constitution’s separation of powers; but his bullying seems to have later paid off, when the Supreme Court apparently altered its Obamacare decision so as to not ruffle any political feathers.
• On April 27, 2009, Obama’s staff (possibly at his direction) ordered Air Force One to make an unnecessary very low flight over part of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, which many residents mistakenly assumed must be a second 9/11 attack in progress; turned out that it was just a stunt to get a photo op of Obama’s plane next to the Statue of Liberty.
• Obama somehow managed to insert mentions of himself into the official biographies of earlier presidents on the White House Web site — even presidents from the 19th century. After public outcry, the narcissistic Obama mentions were quietly removed without comment.
• Intentionally misquotes the Declaration of Independence in speeches, often leaving out the words “by their Creator” in the famous passage “…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” which Obama instead has recited as “…are endowed with certain unalienable rights.”
• In June of 2009, Obama’s Solicitor General (and now Supreme Court Justice) Elena Kagan filed a legal brief to prevent the families of 9/11 victims from appealing their lawsuits against the Saudi royal family for financing the 9/11 attacks.
• The 2009 National Christmas Tree in the White House was decorated with ornaments depicting Chairman Mao, a drag queen, and a picture of Mount Rushmore that included Obama’s own head next to George Washington’s.
• Compelled Catholic and other religious organizations to provide health plans with free contraception, even though such requirements violate their rights of religious freedom and conscience.
• It was revealed only after Obama became president that during the 1990s he was a leading member of the “New Party,” a socialist-aligned far-left radical group in Chicago.
• Lied about his close associations with former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers; pretended the two barely knew each other, when multiple sources document they were friends and close colleagues for years.
• When Obama was inaugurated as President on January 20, 2009, he at first flubbed the oath of office, so he had to re-take it behind closed doors for his inauguration to be valid. He did so, but during this second, true inauguration in private, he purposely failed to place his hand on a Bible, as is traditional — the first president ever to not swear the oath of office on the Bible.
• Obama’s own author bio in his literary agent’s catalog and on their Web site stated for 17 consecutive years that he was born in Kenya; this claim remained intact despite other portions of the bio being altered and updated repeatedly. It was only in 2007 after he decided to run for the presidency that the “born in Kenya” claim was taken down. The original info must necessarily have come from Obama himself; some theorize he likely falsely claimed foreign birth in order to gain admission or scholarships in college, and never bothered to fix his lie.
• After winning the 2008 election but before being sworn in, Obama bombastically concocted the official-seeming “Office of the President-Elect” as if it was some kind of real government department; in fact, it was just a self-congratulatory title he made up to look important before he actually became president.
• Obama administration came up with the bizarre euphemism “man-caused disasters” to describe acts of terrorism — because he wants to downplay terrorism as a significant political issue.
• For three years in a row his official budget proposals to Congress received exactly zero votes — not even a single vote from Democrats.
• Relied on an Islamic fundamentalist militia group called “The Martyrs of the February the 17th Revolution Brigade” to provide security at the American mission in Benghazi — and they not only failed to prevent the attack but perhaps even joined in on it.
• During the debate over Obamacare in 2009, Obama bluntly stated that doctors like to perform amputations rather than practice preventive medicine for no other reason than that they make a greater profit from amputations. The American College of Surgeons demanded an apology, which never arrived.
• Since 2008 the Los Angeles Times has been in possession of a videotape showing Obama honoring and praising anti-Western anti-Israel academic Edward Said, but they have steadfastly refused to release it to this day, for no discernible reason other than their belief it would damage Obama’s reputation.
• When the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe recently held a conference on human rights, Obama sent an American representative — Salam al-Marayati, a Truther who blamed Israel for the 9/11 attacks and who also praises Hezbollah and Hamas. To the nations of Europe, al-Marayati spoke for all Americans on the topic of human rights.
• Obama’s Department of Homeland Security specifically warned that Americans who are “dedicated to a
single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration” are potential terrorists, as are libertarian-minded voters who “favor of state or local authority” over centralized power. These “rightwing extremists” (who hold political beliefs shared by a majority of Americans) are deemed a greater threat to the nation than actual revolutionaries or jihadists.
• While campaigning in 2008 Obama declared that it was “unpatriotic” that Bush had increased the national debt at a rate of half a trillion dollars per year; but under Obama the rate of national debt increase has accelerated to almost three times the Bush rate ($6 trillion in new debt in under four years) — yet Obama has never apologized nor declared himself unpatriotic.
• For decades, every president has attended a “daily intelligence briefing” which updates him on critical world events each morning. Obama has skipped 60% of his daily intelligence briefings, including the ones leading up to the attack in Benghazi.
It’s been a rough year or so for the Internal Revenue Service. The agency has been in the news for “losing” key computer records that Congress wants to investigate. There was the scandal over high-level attempts to investigate and intimidate churches. And there were the demands that certain conservative and Christian groups reveal their prayers and promise not to oppose Planned Parenthood.
Oh, and don’t forget the agency’s huge role in collecting funds for Obamacare.
Now, in open defiance of agency rules, thousands of pastors have told their congregations what the Bible says about the positions held by electoral candidates.
As WND CEO Joseph Farah explained in a commentary, Congress was pushed by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, in 1954 to adopt regulations for the IRS that ban churches from endorsing candidates.
It never should have happened, he said.
“Under the First Amendment, Congress has no power to tax churches. Period. End of story. Under the First Amendment, Congress has no power to stifle freedom of speech. Ever since 1954, the government has unevenly applied its illegitimate oversight of churches – winking as some pastors turn their churches over to political candidates to make stump speeches, while warning others it is inappropriate. There is only one real solution – repeal the Johnson Amendment.”
That’s the goal of pastors who participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an effort the Alliance Defending Freedom.
The annual event, started in 2008, encourages pastors to openly preach on the “biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates.”
They also sign a statement agreeing the IRS should not control the content of a pastor’s sermons.
More than 3,800 pastors already have taken part, including 1,517 who preached Oct. 5 and another 242 who signed the statement. Others participated in earlier events, and the movement is growing weekly.
The ADF explains: “Pulpit Freedom Sunday gives pastors the opportunity to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to engage in religious expression from the pulpit despite an Internal Revenue Service rule known as the Johnson Amendment, which activist groups often use to silence churches by threatening their tax-exempt status.”
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley, who heads the Pulpit Freedom Sunday event, said the tax-collecting IRS “shouldn’t be playing speech cop and threatening a church’s tax-exempt status simply because its pastor exercises his constitutionally protected freedom of speech.”
“Pastors and their churches should decide what is said in church,” he said.” The IRS shouldn’t be empowered to censor speech, period. A growing movement of pastors is calling for a solution to this very real violation of the First Amendment.”
“The Johnson Amendment commissioned the IRS to be a ‘speech cop,’ a role it should not have,” added ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “This law was specifically designed to silence public criticism of a politician. That’s clearly in conflict with the First Amendment. Political retribution to protect the powerful has never been the basis of good law.”
The restriction came about because of what Johnson saw as a solution to his own political problems.
In 1954, Johnson was facing opposition in his re-election bid from Christians and anti-communists, some of whom were speaking their minds freely from the pulpits.
Johnson, a powerful figure in the Senate who would later become John F. Kennedy’s vice president and succeed him following the assassination in 1963, had a solution for his own political predicament – to muzzle churches and clergy with federal regulations.
Through what became known as “the Johnson Amendment,” the U.S. Congress changed the Internal Revenue Service code, prohibiting non-profits, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
“This most regrettable action has haunted America ever since,” Farah wrote. “Over the last 50 years, America’s churches have been controlled and intimidated by these hideous IRS regulations. They’ve been neutered. I blame the clergy for so timidly falling in line with the illegitimate government restrictions as much as I blame the government.
“But it’s time to recognize the Johnson Amendment was an abuse of the system by a powerful politician who had no respect for the Constitution, for religious freedom and for freedom of speech. Johnson himself, as president, used the illegitimate Fairness Doctrine to target broadcasters who criticized him.
“He was a petty tyrant, and we need not live under the dark cloud of suppression he created back in 1954,” he wrote.
ADF said Pulpit Freedom Sunday began in 2008 with 33 participating pastors.
“ADF hopes to eventually go to court to have the Johnson Amendment struck down as unconstitutional for its regulation of sermons, which are protected by the First Amendment,” the organization explained online.
“A federal agency can’t use tax status as a weapon to force an American to surrender his constitutionally protected freedoms,” Stanley explained. “Churches don’t have to give up their freedom of speech to remain tax-exempt any more than they have to give up their protection against illegal search and seizure or any other protection in the Bill of Rights.”
ADF cited a September Pew Research poll finding “the majority of Americans are concerned that religion is losing influence in American life and believe churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues.”
A short video about Pulpit Freedom Sunday:
ADF points out that before 1954, “there were no restrictions on what churches could or couldn’t do with regard to speech about government and voting, excepting only a 1934 law preventing nonprofits from using a substantial part of their resources to lobby for legislation.”