IRS Minimizing Scandal Targeting Religious, Pro-Life Groups

The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday indicated that the new IRS Chief Risk Officer is minimizing both his agency’s practices that led to the targeting of Tea Party organizations and religious groups and the Treasury inspector general’s damaging report that triggered the scandal. The revelation came in the wake of President Obama’s claim that conservative Republicans are obsessed with “phony scandals.”

The Washington Examiner reports that Rep. David Camp, chairman of House Ways and Means, said on Wednesday that David Fisher, the new IRS Chief Risk Officer, “sought to minimize” the report of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). Camp and Rep. Charles Boustany, chairman of the panel’s oversight subcommittee, expressed concern that inappropriate questions, such as the content of prayers said by some religious organizations, would continue to be asked.

In a letter that requested “swift remedial action” of acting IRS Director Daniel Werfel, Camp and Boustany wrote that Fisher’s newly created post was to “among other things, initiate a comprehensive, agency-wide review of compliance selection criteria, encompassing all business units across the IRS.”

Camp and Boustany articulated concern in the letter that, on July 16th, Fisher, in his first briefing of the progress since taking on the recommendations in the Treasury IG report, provided a response that was dismissive of his primary task:

At the briefing, Mr. Fisher instead sought to minimize the findings of the TIGTA report, an objective that seemed inconsistent with Mr. Fisher's core responsibilities, especially since the IRS has already agreed to implement all of the TIGTA report recommendations and has suspended the use of the so-called 'Be On the Lookout' or 'BOLOs.' This report of the briefing raises concern about the focus of Mr. Fisher's efforts and the imperative to bring to his attention a potential current risk to taxpayers' religious liberties.

The issue of risk to taxpayers’ religious liberties was illuminated during a May hearing when an Iowa based anti-abortion group called Coalition for Life of Iowa revealed that the IRS has requested information about the content of the organization’s prayer meetings.

In their letter, Camp and Boustany asked Werfel for details about the IRS policy of questioning organizations about their religious practices:

To ensure there are no current risks to religious liberty, please provide to the committee, no later than August 14, 2013 answers to the following:

  • What is current IRS policy and practice as to inquiring about the religious beliefs and practices of applicants for exempt status or exempt organizations on examination?
  • Are there any circumstances when such inquiries are appropriate?
  • What safeguards are in place to ensure that inappropriate inquiries are not put to applicants for exempt status or exempt organizations on examination?
  • Assuming there are safeguards, how do you know whether the safeguards are effective?
  • What are you doing to ensure that the Chief Risk Officer and his subordinates are putting their collective time to the highest and best use?

LifeSiteNews reports that on Thursday, a legal watchdog group submitted a new memo and 250 pages of additional evidence to Rep. Aaron Schock, a member of the oversight panel, supporting its claim that the IRS continued to question conservative and Christian groups inappropriately, permit interminable delays, and engage in “illegal” tactics, despite the agency’s pledges to “get to the bottom” of the harassment.

The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based law firm, indicated that the IRS has not reformed and is still using its same methods to deny or delay tax-exempt status to pro-life groups.

“Even after public disclosure of this wrongdoing, the Obama administration’s IRS has refused to cease its illegal activity,” said Peter Breen, the society’s vice president and senior counsel.

The additional evidence involves three of the law firm’s client organizations: Cherish Life Ministries, LIFE Group, and Emerald Coast Coalition for Life (ECCL).

Both Cherish for Life and LIFE Group were contacted by the same IRS agent, Mrs. R. Medley of the Cincinnati office, and received identical denial letters on April 8th. In addition, both organizations were asked the amount of time they would spend being a “presence” in front of abortion facilities and if they would present a competing view alongside the pro-life perspective.

On February 2nd, Medley asked the LIFE Group, “Does your organization provide information regarding other alternatives to ‘pro-life’? If so, please indicate where.”

On June 19th, IRS agent Tyrone Thomas asked ECCL, “Will you promote demonstrations and/or rallies at clinic and/or hospitals to stop abortions in your community? If yes, Please [sic] explain.”

LIFE Group waited 15 months for its application to be approved, while Cherish for Life’s dragged on for 16 months. ECCL has already waited 14 months, but has yet to receive approval.

“We have now produced irrefutable evidence of six clients whose First Amendment rights were trampled upon by the IRS because of their position upholding the sanctity of life,” Breen said on Thursday.


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