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Current Page: Politics | Tuesday, April 21, 2015
IRS Surveillance of Churches After Secret Agreement With Atheists May Go to Court

IRS Surveillance of Churches After Secret Agreement With Atheists May Go to Court

A woman walks out of the Internal Revenue Service building in New York in this May 13, 2013 photo. | (Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

An Arizona-based legal group has filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding that the Internal Revenue Service divulge information about an agreement it made with an atheist organization regarding the monitoring of churches.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group based in Scottsdale filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this month.

ADF's complaint charges that the IRS has failed to honor a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Alliance regarding the details of an agreement between the tax collecting federal body and the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

"As of the date of this complaint, Defendant has failed to: (i) determine whether to comply with the request; (ii) notify Plaintiff of any such determination or the reasons therefor; (iii) advise Plaintiff of the right to appeal any adverse determination; and/or (iv) produce the requested records or otherwise demonstrate that the requested records are exempt from production," reads the complaint.

"Plaintiff is being irreparably harmed by reason of Defendant's unlawful withholding of records responsive to Plaintiffs' FOIA request, and Plaintiff will continue to be irreparably harmed unless Defendant is compelled to conform its conduct to the requirements of the law."

In 2012, the FFRF sued the IRS demanding that they enforce the Johnson Amendment, a provision that strips a church or its tax exemption if it is openly involved in political activity.

Last summer, the FFRF and the IRS reached an agreement wherein the federal body would make an effort to enforce the Johnson Amendment when violations are brought to their attention. But the IRS has not disclosed the details of that agreement.

"This is a victory, and we're pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions," said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor in a statement.

Last November the group Judicial Watch, which is representing ADF in its complaint, filed its own FOIA lawsuit against the IRS demanding "any and all records" relating to the agency's "monitoring of churches and other tax exempt religious organizations."

Judicial Watch had filed a FOIA request earlier that year, but the IRS failed to provide them with a response. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said in a statement last November that he found it "troubling that the IRS seems set to rely on a group of atheists to point them toward churches that might have criticized politicians."

"And it is even more disturbing that the IRS would violate federal law, The Freedom of Information Act, in order to keep secret its monitoring of Americans praying together in church," continued Fitton.

Regarding the April complaint brought against the IRS, ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb said in a statement that "Americans deserve to know what the IRS is up to."

"The agency's unwillingness to produce these records only furthers the perception that it makes secret deals with activists that it wishes to hide from the public," said Holcomb.

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