National Religious Broadcasters President & CEO Dr. Frank Wright asked members of Congress investigating the IRS over its alleged inappropriate scrutiny of conservative and faith-based groups to focus on First Amendment protection for such organizations.
"As Congress investigates these incidents at the IRS, and others that may surface in the days ahead, I ask that you emphasize the First Amendment rights of non-profit religious organizations and churches, which gives them constitutional authority to operate free from government entanglement," wrote Wright in a letter sent to House Speaker John Boehner and other Congressional leaders, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
"Pernicious targeting of faith-based organizations by any state actor must not be tolerated," Wright added. "These IRS cases before the nation today appear to be just such entangling, oppressive, and constitutionally unsound situations that must be protected against."
Earlier this year, the NRB Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution urging Congress to be wary of "IRS rules that would negatively impact religious non-profit organizations, or which would create entangling, or oppressive oversight from the government, or that would impair the constitutional autonomy of religious organizations or churches."
NRB notes that while a report from the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration detailed how IRS agents "used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention," there have been reported incidents that suggest the profiling by the IRS was not limited to conservative political organizations.
On Tuesday, Evangelist Franklin Graham sent a letter to President Barack Obama outlining how his organization Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association were the subjects of an IRS probe during the 2012 campaign season.
"In light of what the IRS admitted to on Friday, May 10, 2013, and subsequent revelations from other sources, I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year was a coincidence – or justifiable," wrote Graham.
"I am bringing this to your attention because I believe that someone in the Administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us. This is morally wrong and unethical – indeed some would call it 'un-American,'" Graham stated.
In his letter, Graham explained that the IRS sent agents to review the tax exempt status of Samaritan's Purse and the BGEA in the fall of 2012 due to their buying newspaper ads urging voters to support candidates "who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel."
"After the election, we did receive official notice that our organizations continue to qualify for exemption from Federal income tax, and that our returns were accepted as filed," wrote Graham.
"Unfortunately, while these audits not only wasted taxpayer money, they wasted money contributed by donors for ministry purposes, as we had to spend precious resources servicing the IRS agents at our offices."
NRB also pointed to the recent revelation from Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk Action Corporation about how their request for 501(c)(4) status had been handled over the past year and a half. Although the request was filed on September 2, 2011, it wasn't until March 19, 2013, that they heard back – and only after multiple attempts to reach the IRS reviewing agent.
According to Dobson's organization, the IRS agent said she didn't think their request for exemption would be granted because Family Talk Action is "not educational" because they do not present all views.
The agent reportedly elaborated even more by saying that Family Talk Actions sounded like a "partisan right-wing group" because, according to her, it only presents conservative viewpoints. She then added, "you're political" because you "criticized President Obama, who was a candidate," according to Family Talk.
"The American people deserve better treatment from its government than this," said Dobson. "Christian ministries and others supporting the family must not be silenced or intimidated by the IRS or other branches of the government."
In defense of BGEA, Samaritan's Purse, and Family Talk Action – all three of which are members of NRB – Wright noted how the organizations "have stood as shining examples for many years, serving the physical, educational, and spiritual needs of people near and abroad."
NRB describes itself as a non-partisan international association of committed broadcasters and Christian communicators coming together to spread the life-changing Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through every electronic medium available. "Our member outreach touches every continent through Christian radio, television, Internet and other media arts. We hold deeply-rooted beliefs that religious liberty is the cornerstone of a free society, and that we must protect those freedoms so that the transforming reality of Jesus Christ can reach hearts and minds the world over," NRB states.
On the Web: http://nrb.org.