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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Internal Revenue Service is walking back its persecution of a Christian group.
Texas-based organization Christians Engaged celebrated a victory on Wednesday after the IRS granted it tax-exempt status. This is a major reversal, as the IRS previously determined Christians Engaged would have to pay taxes based on the dubious premise that the group's Christian beliefs are "partisan."
"We are incredibly thankful to the IRS for doing the right thing, and we look forward to continuing our mission of educating more followers of Jesus to pray for our nation and to be civically engaged. When we stand up, our republic works for all Americans," exclaimed Christians Engaged president Bunni Pounds.
Pounds thanked several federal lawmakers for supporting them through their appeals process. They include:
Christians Engaged was represented in its appeal by First Liberty Institute — "the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans."
Lea Patterson, a First Liberty Institute attorney, heralded the IRS decision as a big win: "This is truly great news for our client as well as religious organizations and churches across America. We are grateful the IRS changed course to bring its decision into line with the Constitution and its own regulations."
The Christians Engaged application was rejected, according to Martin, because the group "engage[s] in prohibited political campaign intervention" and "operate[s] for a substantial non-exempt private purpose and for the private interests of the [Republican] Party."
Patterson and First liberty disagreed:
By Director Martin's reasoning, any church that teaches these commonly held religious beliefs and encourages its parishioners to fulfill their civic duty to vote would violate the restrictions on campaign intervention because the IRS views the religious beliefs as overlapping with a particular party's positions.
Christians Engaged describes itself as a group that "provides nonpartisan religious and civic education, focusing on encouraging and educating Christians to be civically engaged as a part of their religious practice."
The group's mission statement requests that participants "pray for the nation regularly," "vote in every election to impact the culture," "engage hearts in some form of political education or activism for the future of the nation" and "strive to educate Christians on the importance of prayer, voting and engagement in a non-partisan manner." It doesn't express any known support for political parties — only religious and political ideas.
Another attorney, Creighton University law professor Edward Morse, told Church Militant the initial IRS disposition represented clear political targeting: "I saw this with a sense of amusement because you could hardly make this up. It's textbook bias on behalf of the Biden administration of a type that is even more aggressive than what we saw under the Obama administration toward conservative Christian thinkers."
Victories for religious liberty often pave the way for future faith-based advocacy in the United States — which is why Christians Engaged is so excited. Indeed, in a recent statement, the organization broadcast its jubilance: "Together we, as believers in Jesus, have won today. This is a victory not only for Christians Engaged but for every Christian organization around America that teaches the Bible and cares about the future of our great nation. I am so so thankful for all of you! Onward."