September 2022 Church & State Magazine

Christian Nationalist Group Wins Tax Status As A Church From Internal Revenue Service

  Christian Nationalist Group Wins Tax Status As A Church From Internal Revenue Service

A prominent Christian nationalist organization that works to elect far-right candidates to state and federal government has been awarded status as a church by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The Family Research Council (FRC), based in Washington, D.C., has for years sponsored an annual conference called the Values Voter Summit in which GOP candidates appear to seek votes and support. Despite this clearly partisan agenda, the IRS recently designated FRC an “association of churches.”

The federal government has a 14-point checklist that the agency uses to determine what constitutes a house of worship. The IRS notes that these characteristics “have been developed by the IRS and by court decisions.”

AU maintains that FRC fails to meet the criteria to be a church.

For example, Point 2 says churches have a “recognized creed and form of worship.” FRC does not have this and spends most of its time attacking LGBTQ people, bashing public education and opposing Democrats.

Point 7 says churches maintain an “organization of ordained ministers,” which FRC does not do (although some ministers are undoubtedly among its membership, they are not ordained by FRC.)

Point 10 says churches have an “established place of worship.” FRC has a building in D.C. but does not hold regular worship services.

Point 11 says churches have “regular congregations.” FRC has dues-paying members all over America, not folks sitting in pews, singing in choirs and helping out during services.  Point 12 asserts that a church offers “regular religious services,” and Point 13 notes that they sponsor “schools for the religious instruction of the young.” FRC offers neither.

FRC gets substantial benefits from masquerading as a church. Chief­ly, it’s basically free from most forms of financial oversight. As a church, FRC will no longer file a Form 990, a financial statement that nonprofits must complete and make available every year. The 990 provides some basic financial data such as budget size, and it gives a sense of how nonprofits spend the money they raise. It also lists top staff and board members.

FRC isn’t the only right-wing group seeking official designation as a church. Liberty Counsel, a Christian nationalist legal organi­za­tion, declared itself a church auxiliary years ago, and Focus on the Fam­ily, a Christian nationalist behemoth in Colorado Springs, also claims to be a church.

Last month, a group of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the IRS asking the tax agency to review its decision to classify FRC and other political organizations as churches.

“They do not hold religious services, do not have a congregation or affiliated congregations, and do not possess many of the other attributes of churches listed by the IRS,” asserts the letter. “FRC is one example of an alarming pattern in the last decade — right-wing advocacy groups self-identifying as ‘churches’ and applying for and receiving church status.”

The letter goes on to say, “We understand the importance of religious institutions to their congregants and believe that religious freedom is a cherished American value and constitutional right. We also believe that our tax code must be applied fairly and judiciously. Tax-exempt organizations should not be exploiting tax laws applicable to churches to avoid public accountability and the IRS’s examination of their activities.”

Forty Democratic House members signed the letter, among them U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman (Calif.), Jamie Raskin (Md.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Norma J. Torres (Calif.), Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.) and Mark Pocan (Wisc.).

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