The group is Christians Engaged, a faith-based civic engagement group in Garland run by regional Republican fixture Bunni Pounds. A fundraiser and 2018 congressional candidate, Pounds navigated Republican circles for a decade before founding Christians Engaged.
The group itself is nonpartisan. It holds prayer meetings and offers educational materials for Christians to engage in political activism. Generally, the group’s mission is to encourage Christians to promote their values politically.
“Whether you want to connect with the pro-life movement, the fight to stop human trafficking, organizations that promote fiscal responsibility in our elected officials, educational opportunities, or good media sources — we want to serve,” the group’s website reads.
“We use our podcast, our articles, our classes, and personal mentoring to help every Christian find their passion and learn to volunteer.”
In a letter to Christians Engaged explaining the denial of tax-exempt status, the IRS wrote that the group is “not neutral” and therefore unfit for the exemption.
“You instruct individuals on issues that are prominent in political campaigns and instruct them in what the Bible says about the issue and how they should vote. These issues include the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, and biblical justice. These issues generally distinguish candidates and are associated with political party platforms. These facts preclude you from exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3),” the IRS letter reads, dated May 18.
“Information you present and on your website is not neutral. You instruct individuals on how Christians should use the Bible and vote the Bible… The bible [sic] teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates. This disqualifies you from exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3).”
The group’s legal counsel, a religious freedom advocacy group called First Liberty, noted that IRS code does not require neutrality. The IRS even published a guide for 501(c)(3) groups noting that many of them take stances on divisive issues or at least lean politically in some way.
“[The IRS] may have confused the requirements for voter guides, which must be neutral among candidates and parties, with the requirements for educational activity, which need not be neutral on public policy issues,” First Liberty wrote in an appeal letter.
“Indeed, if exempt organizations may only articulate public policy positions on issues as to which no political party or candidate has an opinion, then the regulations recognizing that exempt organizations may advocate positions on public policy issues have no meaning.”
As an example of civic engagement 501(c)(3) groups with political perspectives, First Liberty notes the Libertarian Christian Institute as well as Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” initiative, co-chaired by celebrities like Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monáe, and Megan Rapinoe.
A number of Texas organizations with a political bent to their educational efforts enjoy tax-exempt status as well. The Center for the Healing of Racism, an educational group whose tenets include the assertion that racism is “woven into the moral and spiritual fiber of american [sic] society,” is one example. A Christian example is the education advocacy group Pastors for Texas Children, a left-leaning lobbying organization.
First Liberty claims that the IRS has violated the First Amendment by denying tax-exempt status to the group.
“[Exempt Organizations] Director [Stephen] Martin’s reasoning in denying tax exempt status relies entirely on Christians Engaged’s positions and its religious perspective in articulating them,” First Liberty wrote.
The allegation recalls an Obama-era IRS practice of denying tax-exempt status to certain right-leaning groups.
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