(CN) - A Catholic nonprofit group that was taxed for posting an e-letter calling 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry a "notorious sinner" can't sue the IRS over the tax, a federal judge in San Diego ruled, in part because it was given a full refund.
Karl Keating, founder of Catholic Answers, posted an e-letter in April 2004 stating that Kerry "is nominally Catholic, and is vociferously pro-abortion." Keating added, "He is precisely the kind of politician who should be denied Communion at Catholic parishes because his strong endorsement of abortion qualifies him as a 'notorious sinner.'"
Keating and Catholic Answers had to pay an excise tax of $831.41 plus interest for 2004 and 2005 based on what the IRS deemed "acts of political intervention," which are prohibited for tax-exempt organizations.
Keating challenged the assessment, and the IRS eventually abated the tax and refunded the money, including interest.
Keating and Catholic Answers still sued, claiming the tax had been wrongfully collected, and the organization should not have been required to "correct" the purported political expense.
They also argued that the tax chilled their speech, because they feared future taxation.
Chief U.S. District Judge Irma E. Gonzalez dismissed as moot most of Keating's claims, because the organization had been given the refund and abatement.
But Keating also demanded a declaration that the e-letter was not a "political expenditure," to stop the IRS from repeating the tax in the future.
Judge Gonzalez noted that this was Keating's "most salient argument," but said that such a recurrence was "unlikely."
She said there were other factors apart from the e-letter that prompted the IRS to investigate, and it was a combination of those factors that led to the tax.
"[T]here is no indication that the combination of circumstances giving rise to the government's assessment of excise taxes against [Catholic Answers] are likely to be repeated," Gonzalez wrote.
The judge granted the government's motion to dismiss.
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