Wis. Church Files Motion Against Atheist Group Suing IRS Over Church Politicking

A church in Wisconsin has filed a motion against an atheist group suing the Internal Revenue Service over its alleged refusal to enforce a ban on church politicking.

Holy Cross Anglican Church of Wauwatosa, headed by Benedictine Abbot Father Patrick Malone, filed the motion to intervene last week in U.S. District Court.

Holy Cross Anglican's motion was done in response to the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit against the IRS.

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"Father Malone believes that his Anglican faith requires him to provide timely religious instruction on matters relevant to the Church, including specific moral considerations about voting for particular political candidates," reads the motion in part.

"While the Church and Father Malone understand that the Internal Revenue Service prohibits such guidance within the context of Church services, they believe that they have a constitutional and statutory right to obey their religious beliefs."

The motion also said that the FFRF is suing so that "the IRS…punish Father Malone and the Church for Father Malone's religious guidance on political candidates."

"Father Malone and the Church seek to protect their statutory and constitutional rights against the imposition of such punishment, and therefore oppose FFRF's lawsuit," continued the motion.

Holy Cross Anglican is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, whose legal counsel Daniel Blomberg dubbed the FFRF lawsuit "censorship."

"Given recent IRS abuses, only a group like FFRF could want to force the IRS into the sermon censorship business," said Blomberg in a statement Friday.

"Ministers preaching the truth to power helped start the American Revolution, stop slavery, and end racial segregation. Despite what FFRF wants, the tax man has no role in editing sermons."

Last year, the FFRF filed a complaint in District Court against IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman over the tax organization's apparent failure to enforce its ban on church "electioneering."

"Plaintiff requests the Court to enjoin the Defendant Shulman from continuing a policy of non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations," reads the complaint in part.

"All organizations, including churches and religious organizations, that are exempt from federal income tax under §501(c)(3) of the Tax Code are prohibited from participating or intervening, directly or indirectly, in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office."

In August, a federal judge ruled that the FFRF's lawsuit could proceed, denying an earlier motion by the IRS to dismiss the complaint.

Regarding the complaint, FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement that the "time for a free ride for churches is over."

"If these churches -- which are accountable to no one in government yet get so many favors -- are allowed to engage in tax-exempt politicking, it would be the ruination of our democracy," said Gaylor.

The IRS's rule stems from the Johnson Amendment, a measure passed by Congress in 1954 that prohibits nonprofits from campaigning or endorsing political entities.

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