An audio recording captures an Internal Revenue Service agent stumbling and hesitating her way through a telephone call in which she tells a leader of a pro-life group that her organization must keep its religious beliefs to itself.
The Alliance Defending Freedom said the group, Pro-Life Revolution, did not get its tax-exempt status until last week – nearly two and a half years after starting the process.
In the recorded conversation, IRS agent Sherry Wan tells Ania Joseph: “You cannot, you know, use your religious belief to tell other people you don’t have a belief, so I don’t believe you need the right to do this, start confrontation, protesting, uh, prot, uh, protest. … You don’t apply for tax exemption.”
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said the IRS “is a tax collector; it shouldn’t be allowed to be the speech and belief police.”
“The current scandal isn’t new but has merely exposed the abuse of power that characterizes this agency and threatens our fundamental freedoms,” he said.
Pro-Life Revolution, headquartered in Texas, said it operates for religious, educational and charitable purposes.
It applied for tax-exempt status in January 2011. Four months later, it received a letter from the IRS demanding that officers assure the federal government “that the information you distribute or present to the public are (sic) NOT representing biased and unsupported opinions; [and] that the information presented or distributed are (sic) with sufficiently full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts as to permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion.”
The IRS said that in general, “prolife or abortion is a matter of public concern and there are different opinions on this issue.”
“An organization may advocate the adoption of objective (sic) that are controversial. However, it’s (sic) activities may serve educational purpose (sic) if the activities are nevertheless designed to increase the knowledge and understanding of the public on its viewpoint,” the IRS said.
The letter, also from Wan, said, “From the provisions in Article II, item 2.3 of your bylaws, and from the information presented in your website, it appears that some of your activities, conducted or plan to conduct, may be neither educational nor charitable in nature no matter how sincere of (sic) your religious belief or how important of (sic) your viewpoint.”
Joseph responded to the questions in the letter, then in March 2012 received a call from Wan.
Wan said that to receive tax exemption, “You cannot force your religion or force your beliefs on somebody else.”
She continued: “You have to know your boundaries. You have to know your limits. You have to respect other people’s beliefs.”
ADF noted that the IRS has granted tax-exempt status to pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood and Life and Liberty for Women.
The IRS requested additional information in February in another letter, ADF said, and attempted to apply a standard for tax exemption to Pro-Life Revolution that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held to be unconstitutional in 1980.
When ADF pointed out the constitutional violation to the IRS, the tax exemption finally was granted.
“The power to tax is the power to destroy,” said Stanley. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We cannot allow the IRS to ruthlessly dictate against legitimate non-profits simply because it does not approve of the organization’s mission. It must be held accountable.”
Among Wan’s other statements:
- “Yeah, you have the religious freedom; the freedom of speech. And other people also have the civil rights; human rights.”
- “You have no right to (sic), against, other people’s beliefs.”
- “You reach out to woman, you can’t do that. … You cannot force your religion or force your beliefs on somebody else.”
- “You can’t take all kinds of confrontation activities and also put something on a website and ask people to take action against the abortion clinic. That’s not, that’s not really educational.”
- “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.”
While much of the coverage of the IRS’s attacks on conservative groups has focused on groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, WND also has reported several times on IRS attacks on Christian, pro-life and pro-Israel groups.