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IRS reinstates tax exempt status of religious liberty group after Lee, Owens raise concerns

By Connor Richards special To The Standard-Examiner - | Jul 9, 2021
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Utah Sen. Mike Lee presents an American flag to Paul Warner, exiting executive director of the Freedom Festival, during the Freedom Festival's flag retirement ceremony held Friday, June 14, 2019, at Memorial Park in Provo.

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Burgess Owens, Republican candidate in Utah's 4th Congressional District, speaks with the North Sanpete High School football and basketball teams during a campaign stop Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Mount Pleasant.

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Burgess Owens, the Republican candidate for Utah’s 4th Congressional District seat, speaks during a campaign event held at Colonial Flag in Sandy on Thursday, July 23, 2020.

The Internal Revenue Service reversed its decision to remove tax-exempt status from a religious values group after over a dozen Republican lawmakers raised concerns with the decision, including U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

The group in question is Christians Engaged, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose goals are “to awaken, motivate, educate, and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ to: PRAY for our nation and elected officials regularly, VOTE in every election to impact our culture, and ENGAGE our hearts in some form of political education or activism for the furtherance of our nation,” according to a letter written by Owens, Lee and 13 other GOP lawmakers.

The letter, sent to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on June 25, says that IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Stephen Martin sent a letter stating that Christians Engaged does not qualify for nonprofit status because it is “engaged in prohibited political campaign intervention,” including using “bible teachings (that) are typically affiliated with the (Republican) Party candidates.”

“These issues have always been at the core of Christian belief and classifying them as inherently political is patently absurd,” the congress members wrote. “If the IRS applied this interpretation broadly, it would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of thousands of Christian churches across the country.”

Additionally, Martin raised issue with the nonprofit’s teachings regarding “freedom of speech, defense, … borders and immigration, (and) U.S. and Israel relations,” according to the letter.

“Millions of Americans draw deeply from their religious beliefs to inform how they vote and many religious organizations conduct get out the vote efforts,” they wrote. “In fact, President Biden himself campaigned alongside church leaders during the presidential race.”

The Congress members expressed “extreme concern” with the IRS’ determination on the tax-exempt status of Christians Engaged and urged the commissioner “to personally review this determination, and remove the individual, or individuals, responsible for the blatantly biased, discriminatory, and flawed reasoning that led to the determination.”

“The IRS must objectively analyze applications for tax-exempt status and cannot allow political biases to creep into its decisions,” they wrote. “We urge you to immediately review Christians Engaged’s application for 501(c)(3) status personally, and terminate the IRS staff involved in the flawed and politically motivated reasoning behind the determination.”

In a written statement on Thursday, Lee said he was “glad to see that after receiving our letter, the IRS reversed course on what would have been a dangerous and discriminatory decision.”

“Religious groups must be free to teach their beliefs without fear of government retaliation,” the Utah senator said.

Owens called the IRS’ initial move a “politically motivated and discriminatory decision” that “contradicted itself and alienated Americans of faith.”

“Religious prejudice should never be tolerated, especially from our federal institutions,” Owens said in a written statement. “I’m glad to see this biased determination reviewed and corrected.”

The other members of Congress who signed on to the June 25 letter include Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Rep. Louie Gohmert R-Texas; Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina; Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Florida; Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona; Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida; Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado; Rep. Dan Bishop, R-North Carolina; Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-New Mexico; Rep. Ted Budd, R-North Carolina; and Rep. Bob Good, R-Virginia.

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