Washington, DC – Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany Jr., M.D. (R-LA) urged the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to take swift action to address potential risks to taxpayers’ religious liberties.
The threats to religious freedom have been raised several times over the course of the Committee’s investigation into the IRS’s targeting of individual taxpayers based on their personal beliefs. However, in a startling revelation, a one-time senior Washington, DC technical advisor to former IRS Director of Tax-Exempt Organizations, Lois Lerner, stated that in some circumstances it would be appropriate for the IRS to ask an organization seeking exempt status to describe the content of their prayers.
In response, Camp and Boustany stated, “It is extremely concerning that the IRS still believes that they can infringe on taxpayers’ First Amendment rights and ask such personally intrusive questions about religion. This signals that the potential for abuse at the IRS is still high and calls into question efforts to mitigate risk and protect hardworking taxpayers.”
Previous to the interview and during the Committee’s first hearing on IRS targeting in May 2013, then Acting Commissioner Steve Miller noted that he was “surprised” that the IRS requested information from an applicant regarding the content of their prayers. In a second hearing, the President of Coalition for Life of Iowa, Sue Martinek, testified that a revenue agent offered her group a favorable 501(c)(3) determination in exchange for a pledge by the group’s board members, under penalties of perjury, not to gather near a Planned Parenthood to pray.
The Members also expressed concern that the newly installed IRS Chief Risk Officer, David Fisher, may not be focusing on these potential abuses. The Members stressed the need for Fisher to concentrate on these and other actions that may threaten taxpayers’ First Amendment rights.