The Alliance Defending Freedom posted on Monday audio files of a March 2012 phone conversation where an agent from the Internal Revenue Service tells a client from a pro-life group that they cannot apply for tax-exempt status if they "force" their religious beliefs on others.
"The IRS is a tax collector; it shouldn't be allowed to be the speech and belief police," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. "The current scandal isn't new but has merely exposed the abuse of power that characterizes this agency and threatens our fundamental freedoms."
The IRS has been under intense scrutiny after a series of scandals emerged in the past few weeks, first with the revelation that the government agency had intentionally targeted conservative groups for further scrutiny, and then at a hearing last week where lawmakers grilled the IRS on spending close to $50 million of taxpayer money on conferences and gifts over a two-year period.
Republicans and Democrats alike have said that the admitted targeting of conservative groups is unacceptable, and President Barack Obama warned that there will be "no tolerance" for those accountable for these actions.
"These actions by the IRS are an outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public's trust. Targeting groups based on their political views is not only inappropriate but it is intolerable," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
In a transcript of the audio recording posted by the ADF, a legal ministry that advocates "for the right of people to freely live out their faith," the IRS agent says on numerous occasions that while the nonprofit group, called Pro-Life Revolution, is entitled to its religious freedoms, it cannot impose its beliefs on others.
"You reach out to woman, you can't do that. You can, you know, to educate the woman , to do, you know, you don't do that. However, you can't just like say, you know, the [unintelligible] woman, you fear the woman. You have to get the woman the opportunity to listen to you. You cannot force your religion or force your beliefs on somebody else," reads the transcript of the conversation posted by ADF.
The representative from Pro-Life Revolution, which provides support to women in abusive pregnancy situations and says that it mobilizes "the body of Christ against the evil of abortion," then asks the IRS agent if giving someone a brochure is against the rules. The IRS agent replies that it is not, since that is only educating people, but then argues that "confrontational activities" such as protesting at an abortion clinic is not acceptable.
"So here, your action is based on more blind, emotional feelings," the IRS agent states. "You want to do something good for the society, your religion, and we understand that. But meanwhile, we want you to be aware that, you know, when you conduct religious activities, meanwhile you have to respect other people's beliefs, other people's religion. You cannot use any kind of, you know, confrontation way, or to, or against other groups or devalue other groups, other people's beliefs."
The pro-life group had initially filed for non-exempt status in January 2011, but received a letter from the IRS four months later asking for "more information" to explain how the organization provides charitable or educational services, before the phone call in March 2012.
"The power to tax is the power to destroy," Stanley concluded. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We cannot allow the IRS to ruthlessly dictate against legitimate nonprofits simply because it does not approve of the organization's mission. It must be held accountable."
A petition started by the American Center for Law and Justice calling for the abolishment of the IRS and the formation of a new system has reached over 26,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.
"The time has come to abolish the IRS as we know it. It has proven that it is incapable of governing itself," said ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow.