IRS Soothes Oklahoma|on Religious Freedom

     OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – The Internal Revenue Service will not go after tax-exempt religious nonprofits for their opposition to gay marriage, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Wednesday.
     After the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26 that struck down same-sex marriage bans in several states, Pruitt asked the IRS for clarification.
     “During the oral arguments in that case, Solicitor General of the United States Donald Verrilli, Jr., made comments to the effect that charitable organizations – including religious and educational institutions – may face loss of tax-exempt status if they refuse to violate their religious beliefs prohibiting approval of same-sex marriage,” Pruitt’s July 13 letter states.
     “Federal law grants tax-exempt status to organizations existing for ‘religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes.’ Although federal statutes also grant your agency the authority to enforce federal tax law, they do not grant it the discretion to engage in selective or discriminatory treatment of organizations based on their religious beliefs.”
     IRS Commissioner John A. Koskinen responded on July 30 , telling Pruitt the agency “does not intend to change the standards that apply” based on Obergefell.
     “The IRS does not view Obergefell as having changed the law applicable to section 501(c)(3) determinations or examinations,” Koskinen wrote. “Therefore, the IRS will not, because of this decision, change existing standards in reviewing applications for recognition of exemption under section 501(c)(3) or in examining the qualification of section 501(c)(3) organizations.
     Pruitt called it a “victory for religious freedom in America,” and for religious groups’ tax-exempt status.
     “This formal statement from the IRS provides needed assurance that their First Amendment rights will be protected,” Pruitt said in a statement. “To paraphrase President Reagan, we will trust but verify the comments of the IRS and continue to monitor the agency’s actions to ensure Americans aren’t targeted unfairly for exercising their religious beliefs in accordance with the First Amendment.”
     Pruitt has had previous run-ins with the IRS. He complained in August 2014 about the ending of the agency’s “blanket” nonenforcement policy against churches that might have preached politics from the pulpit.
     The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS in Madison, Wisc. Federal Court in 2012. The group claimed the agency’s policy of refusing to prosecute political sermons on Pulpit Freedom Sunday each year violated the Johnson Amendment of 1954.
     That lawsuit was settled in July 2014 after the IRS agreed to end the policy, prompting Pruitt to tell federal officials the settlement put First Amendment rights in danger.

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