IRS Makes Unusual Requests to Pro-Life Group Seeking Tax-Exempt Status

In an unusual case, a pro-life group in Iowa is struggling to gain tax-exempt status and defending itself against what one law firm says is "prejudicial" questioning by the IRS.

According to the Thomas More Society, the Coalition for Life of Iowa submitted a 501c3 application this year and has amply demonstrated its qualification for tax exemption. But more than six months have passed and some of the questions asked and requests made by the IRS have raised red flags.

Attorneys of the Thomas More Society argue that the IRS is in danger of violating the First Amendment, specifically the rights to free speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion.

Although the pro-life coalition specified in its application that its focus is on educational activities and that it does not engage in any lobbying or partisan political activity, the IRS has continued to ask whether the coalition engaged in such activities.

The IRS also specifically asked for details of the coalition's activities, such as prayer meetings and protests, outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Among the questions was one asking for the percentage of time the coalition spends on prayer groups as compared with other activities and another asking what the protest signs read.

The coalition has fully complied and submitted requested documentation, but the Chicago-based law firm finds it odd that the IRS is singling out particular activities against a particular organization. Thomas More attorneys say the repeated questioning suggests that the IRS may be denying or delaying tax-exempt status to the pro-life coalition based solely upon its religious affiliation and speech.

Many other similar organizations regularly advocate on both sides of these issues and have obtained or maintained tax-exempt status, the law firm notes.

When a Thomas More Society attorney contacted Ms. Richards of the IRS by phone, Richards said the coalition is "not allowed per se to engage in 'advocacy' as a section 501c3 organization." That is a "legally erroneous view," the law firm says.

The Thomas More Society has accused the IRS of protecting Planned Parenthood and harassing the Coalition for Life of Iowa.

The pro-life group was further asked by the IRS to sign a statement stating that the coalition will not "picket" or "protest" outside of Planned Parenthood or similar organizations and will not "organize" others to do so. The IRS indicated that only after such a statement is submitted would the application be approved.

"The IRS' requests come perilously close to violating the First Amendment constitutional rights of the Coalition's supporters," the Thomas More Society states in a letter sent this month to the IRS. "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. Consequently, the IRS should approve the Coalition's 1023 application without further delay."