A group of Republican senators has written to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ask why a Christian organization was initially denied tax-exempt status.
The senators, including Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), cited the case of Christians Engaged, a Texas-based non-profit founded in 2019 with the goal of “awakening, motivating, educating, and empowering ordinary believers in Jesus Christ” and encouraging people to pray for elected officials.
In June, the IRS denied Christians Engaged tax-exempt status, but later reversed its decision in response to criticism from some Republicans in Congress. The IRS initially told the group that it didn’t qualify because it was involved in Republican Party political activity.
According to a statement released on Tuesday, Hyde-Smith was joined by Senators James Lankford of Oklahoma and Ben Sasse, among others.
“The senators signed a letter to Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George requesting a review of IRS processes for determining tax-exempt status, as well as the apparent failure of agency quality controls in the case of Christians Engaged, a nonprofit religious organization,” according to the release.
They also asked the Treasury Inspector General to make recommendations on how to improve the process of determining tax-exempt status. They want to know why “numerous layers of quality control reviews, including to ensure that extraneous commentary is not included,” in the proposed adverse determination of Christians Engaged’s application, failed.
The senators wrote that some of their staff had recently had “a productive discussion with IRS officials” about the IRS’s process for “ensuring quality control” when assessing organizations for tax-exempt status, but that the case of Christians Engaged raised concerns about how the process was followed.
“With this process in mind, our concern for the neutral and respectful consideration of all applications, especially those with a religious or faith-based mission, has grown in light of the perceived hostility toward Christians Engaged in the IRS’s proposed adverse determination letter,” the letter stated.
“It is critical to ensure that the multiple steps identified by the IRS, including layers of ‘quality control’ review, are based on law and fact, and are free of extraneous and inappropriate commentary.”
As a federal government agency, the IRS should take care to ensure that no decisions are made based on bias for or against a political or religious viewpoint.”
The letter continues, “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.”
“It is not the IRS’s or any other government agency’s responsibility to deny an otherwise available public benefit to an organization because of its religious status.”
In a letter dated May 18, the IRS denied Christians Engaged tax-exempt status, stating, “You do not qualify as an organization described in IRS Section 501(3).” (c). You are engaging in illegal political campaign intervention. You are also not operated solely 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 the D party’s private interests.”
That “D” stands for the Republican Party, according to the letter. According to the senators’ letter, these remarks are “what many would consider 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 its decision in the face of congressional Republican outrage.