Pro-Life Revolution is a Texas-based organization dedicated to helping women in abusive pregnancy situations and presenting the truth about abortion. Like all non-profit organizations, Pro-Life Revolution applied for tax-exempt status in January, 2011. It filled out the necessary paperwork and described the charitable activities it undertook. It expected to receive tax-exempt status with little difficulty. What it didn't expect was to be confronted with an IRS bent on silencing its pro-life viewpoint as a condition of obtaining tax-exempt status.
IRS agent Sherry Wan contacted the organization several times requesting more information and telling it on more than one occasion that it must remain "neutral" on the subject of abortion and that it could not "confront" other people with different beliefs on the subject. At one point, Ania Joseph, President of Pro-Life Revolution recorded a phone call by Agent Wan who told Ania, "You cannot force your religion or force your beliefs on somebody else." Ania told Agent Wan that simply handing a brochure to a woman was not forcing her religion on them. Agent Wan told her in the phone call, "you have to know your boundaries. You have to know your limits. You have to respect other people’s beliefs." And lest there be any confusion on the subject, Agent Wan ended the phone call by stating:
We want you to be aware that, you know, when you conduct religious activities, meanwhile you have to respect other people’s beliefs, other people’s religion. You cannot use any kind of, you know, confrontation way, or to, or against other groups or devalue other groups, other people’s beliefs. OK?
The IRS later sent a letter to Pro-Life Revolution sating that it must abide by the "full and fair exposition" standard where it has to present both sides of an issue to allow the public to form an independent conclusion on the controversial subject. The problem with this standard is that it was declared to be unconstitutionally vague over thirty years ago! The IRS was attempting to apply a standard to Pro-Life Revolution that a federal appeals court had declared unconstitutional in 1980.
If this weren't enough, the IRS agent attempted to create a legal standard that was not found anywhere in the law or the IRS regulations. The IRS said in its letter:
Further, an organization’s activities may not be considered serving (sic) educational purpose, if an organization carries out activities that aims (sic) to deny or reduce the rights of another segment of the community; that are designed to influence public opinion in favor of its advocated position; that may have adverse effect on the day to day operation of public health facilities (sic) that may be detrimental to the community as a whole; and that show (sic) a type of propaganda to defy other’s beliefs or viewpoints on the same matter.
This standard is simply made up. And it is very unconstitutional because it sets the IRS up as a "speech police" telling organizations that apply for tax exemption what they can and cannot say.
Ania contacted Alliance Defending Freedom who wrote the IRS a letter pointing out the unconstitutionality of the standard it was attempting to apply to Pro-Life Revolution. Alliance Defending Freedom reminded the IRS: "The government must shun being the arbiter of ‘truth.’” And the letter also warned the IRS: "Denying a tax exemption because the government disagrees with the viewpoint of the organization can be a discriminatory limitation on speech that violates the Constitution."
Shortly after the letter was sent to the IRS, it granted exempt status to Pro-Life Revolution.
This case demonstrates the abuse of power that has been occurring at the IRS. The agency is extremely powerful, and the agent who contacted Pro-Life Revolution seemed more motivated by ideology against the pro-life viewpoint than in fairly applying the law. Had Alliance Defending Freedom not become involved, it is entirely possible that the IRS would have stuck to its unconstitutional position and denied exempt status to Pro-Life Revolution.
The old axiom states that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This case is a prime example of what a powerful, unaccountable federal agency can do if left unchecked. We cannot allow the IRS to ruthlessly dictate against legitimate non-profits simply because it does not approve of the organization’s mission. It must be held accountable.
In this case, Alliance Defending Freedom was at the ready to preserve the constitutional freedoms of a pro-life organization against abuse by the IRS. We always stand ready to defend the right to hear and speak the Truth. If you need our assistance, please contact us. Standing together, we can be an alliance defending freedom.
In March 2012, Ania Joseph received a call from IRS Exempt Organization Specialist Sherry Wan, who told her that Pro-Life Revolution cannot “force” its religion or beliefs on anyone else. Wan inaccurately told Joseph that the organization must remain neutral on positions such as abortion in order to qualify for a tax exemption. The IRS has approved applications for tax exemption for pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood and Life and Liberty for Women.
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