Atheist Group Sues IRS Over Church Tax Status

A Wisconsin-based atheist organization has filed suit against the Internal Revenue Service over what it deems "preferential treatment" for churches regarding taxes.

Freedom From Religion Foundation filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin last Thursday against Steven Miller, acting commissioner of the IRS.

"The plaintiffs seek a declaration that preferential application and informational filing exemptions for churches and certain other religious organizations and affiliates under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as the equal protection rights mandated by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment," reads the suit in part.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, said in a statement that she and her organization took issue with the exemption for churches for certain requirements.

"Why should churches be exempt from basic financial reporting requirements? Equally important, why would churches not wish to be accountable?" said Gaylor.

"Having tax-exempt status is a great privilege, and in exchange for that privilege, all other groups must file a detailed report annually to the IRS and the public on how we spend donations."

This is not the first lawsuit in recent weeks filed by the FFRF against the IRS over the accusation of being biased towards churches.

In November, the secular group filed suit against the federal over the IRS' failure to enforce its official ban on churches becoming involved in political endorsements.

Throughout the 2012 election season, churches across the country in on the issues put to vote. This included a nationwide event organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom titled "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."

Although IRS rules clearly state that pastors and churches cannot endorse candidates, officials have held up on any effort to prosecute pastors who have violated such rules.

Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel of the ADF, wrote in a blog entry that while an IRS official recently said that auditing of churches had been suspended, the reality was still the same.

"The important point for churches to remember is that the IRS has not given up on enforcing the tax code against churches. Churches must still be aware of the IRS regulations," wrote Stanley.

"Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to protect and defend the rights of churches, especially in relation to the IRS. It is important that churches know and act on the right information in this critical area."

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