Recent claims by the Christian Coalition that it has won a great victory against the Internal Revenue Service over the issue of the group's tax-exempt status are greatly inflated and inaccurate, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Last February the Christian Coalition, a group founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson, sued the IRS in federal court, claiming that the federal tax agency discriminated against the organization by denying it a 501(c)(4) tax exemption in 1999.
Yesterday the IRS agreed to settle the case by conceding that the Coalition was tax exempt -- but only for the year 1990. The tax agency agreed to refund the organization $169.26 in taxes it paid for that year.
"They won a minor skirmish after the war was already lost," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This doesn't change the fact that the IRS denied the Christian Coalition's tax exemption due to its partisan political activities. This is a rather hollow victory in my book.
"The Christian Coalition is using every legal shenanigan to confuse the public about its partisan political character," Lynn continued. "I don't consider a $169 refund much of a victory. That won't pay for a tank of fuel for Pat Robertson's jet."
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of Robertson's legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice, represented the Christian Coalition in the case. Yesterday, Sekulow told reporters that the group had gotten "everything we asked for."
AU's Lynn disagreed. "This is nonsense," Lynn said. "The Coalition argued that major parts of the tax code were an unconstitutional restriction of free speech, but that argument went nowhere. They also insisted that it was targeted because of its conservative political beliefs, but that claim was a dud, as well."
Lynn said religious leaders should not be fooled by Coalition rhetoric. "Religious leaders who chose to align with Robertson and distribute the organization's biased and slanted 'voter guides' in church are still jeopardizing their own tax-exempt status," Lynn concluded.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.