The Obama Internal Revenue Service scandal is about more than the targeting and suppressing of President Obama's perceived political opponents; it is about using the power of the tax collector to subvert the First Amendment, including the fundamental protection of the God-given right to exercise one's religious convictions.
Proof of this can be found in the latest unlawful cover-up that resulted in Judicial Watch filing an important Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Obama IRS on behalf of the Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF).
With this lawsuit, Judicial Watch seeks to obtain the release of documents about the IRS' decision to re-evaluate criteria for determining whether churches and other nonprofit organizations can claim tax-exempt status, and its suggestion that it may initiate investigations into church activities. This IRS attack on religious freedom follows a lawsuit by the anti-religion group Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF).
Alliance filed the suit after the IRS refused to comply with an FOIA request in July 2014 that asked for:
The IRS stalled the release of records for months, most recently promising to produce records by March 31, which it failed to do.
In 2012, the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit alleging the IRS had routinely ignored its complaints about churches promoting political candidates, issues, or proposed legislation.
In its complaint, the foundation alleged that 1,500 clergy members violated electioneering restrictions on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. The atheist group has specifically cited church teachings against abortion and same-sex marriage as violating the law. It also cited what it termed "blatantly political" full-page ads by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association run on the three Sundays leading up to the presidential election.
But the group abruptly dismissed its IRS lawsuit after a church, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, intervened in the lawsuit to challenge the IRS' alleged authority to "revoke a house of worship's tax-exempt status, and levy fines against churches and individual leaders, when religious leaders are deemed to say things that the IRS does not allow."
Alliance Defending Freedom and other religious rights organizations have challenged directly the notion that the federal government can restrict the speech of pastors.
In July 2014, the IRS announced that, according to the terms of an agreement reached with the foundation, it had been monitoring churches and other houses of worship for electioneering and other political activity.
According to a June 27, 2014, IRS letter to the Justice Department, the IRS targeted 99 churches it said merited "high priority examination" for allegedly illegal electioneering activities.
The foundation, which describes itself as "an effective state/church watchdog and voice for ... atheism, agnosticism, skepticism," trumpeted the IRS agreement at issue as an "IRS Victory!" on its website homepage.
Given the Obama IRS' habit of abusing its authority in seeking to intimidate and silence American citizens, and then stonewalling investigators lawfully seeking answers, it is no surprise that the IRS is once again seeking to prevent the public from getting answers about a case involving vital First Amendment freedoms.
If there is any good news to report, it comes from the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the watchdog agency which has oversight of the IRS.
The IRS targeting scandal was exposed because of the Inspector General organization's May 2013 audit report confirming the IRS used "inappropriate" criteria to identify tea party groups and other conservative organizations that had expressed opposition to the Obama administration's policy stances.
It is also important to note that the IRS obstructed the investigation into Lois Lerner's "missing emails," which were recently, inexplicably "recovered" by the agency, and which will hopefully shed further light on Lerner's abuse of federal privacy and tax laws. There is little doubt the IRS will do the same in this case.
Just a few months ago, President Obama told the country that there was not a smidgen of corruption at the IRS. Given the agency's proven pattern of breaking federal laws and intimidating political opponents, it seems Obama enjoys a different definition of "corruption" than the average, law-abiding American.
In any event, Judicial Watch will keep pushing for transparency and accountability.