Republicans Demand IRS Explain Why Christian Group Was Denied Tax-Exemption

By Darragh Roche

A group of Republican senators has written to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) asking the agency to explain why a Christian group was initially denied tax-exempt status.

The senators, including Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), highlighted the case of Christians Engaged, a Texas based non-profit incorporated in 2019 that seeks to "awaken, motivate, educate, and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ" and encourages people to pray for elected officials.

The IRS denied Christians Engaged tax-exempt status in June, but later reversed that decision following criticism from some Republicans in Congress. The IRS initially told the group it didn't qualify because it engaged in political activity on behalf of the Republican Party.

Hyde-Smith was joined by Senators James Lankford of Oklahoma, Ben Sasse among others, according to a statement on Tuesday.

The senators "signed a letter to Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George requesting a review of IRS processes for making tax-exempt status determinations, and the apparent failure of agency quality controls in the case of Christians Engaged, a nonprofit religious organization."

They also called on the Treasury inspector general to make recommendations on how the process of making tax-exempt status determinations might be improved.

They want an explanation as to why "numerous layers of quality control reviews, including to ensure that extraneous commentary is not included, failed in the proposed adverse determination of Christians Engaged's application."

The senators wrote that some of their staff had recently had "a productive discussion with IRS officials" about the process the IRS has to "ensure quality control" when assessing organizations for tax-exempt status but noted that the case of Christians Engaged raised questions about how the process was followed.

"With this process in mind, our concern for the neutral and respectful consideration of all applications, particularly for those with a religious or faith-based mission in light of the perceived hostility toward Christians Engaged in the IRS's proposed adverse determination letter, has grown," the letter said.

"It is important to ensure that the multiple steps the IRS identified, including layers of 'quality control' review, are indeed based on law and fact, and absent extraneous and inappropriate commentary.

"As an agency within the federal government, the IRS should take care to ensure no decisions are based on bias for or against a political or religious viewpoint."

"An organization's particular religious character, affiliation, or exercise should have no bearing on the IRS's determination of such organization's qualification for tax-exempt status," the letter goes on.

"It is not the role of the IRS or any other government agency to deny an otherwise available public benefit to an organization on account of its religious status."

The IRS denied Christians Engaged tax-exempt status in a letter on May 18, saying: "You do not qualify as an organization described in IRS Section 501(3)(c). You engage in prohibited political campaign intervention. You are also not operated exclusively for one or more exempt purposes within the meaning of Section 501(3)(c) because you operate for a substantial non-exempt private purpose and for the private interests of the D party."

According to the letter, that "D" stands for the Republican Party. The senators' letter described these remarks as "what many would consider to be inappropriate and offensive normative and political commentary."

The First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal organization, appealed the decision on behalf of Christians Engaged and the IRS later reversed the decision amid an outcry from some congressional Republicans.