In May, the IRS originally rejected the group’s request for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, explaining in a letter that Christians Engaged flies too close to Republican politics for comfort.
The group’s founder Bunni Pounds worked in Republican circles for years, fundraising for Republican campaigns and running one of her own, before founding the nonpartisan group.
However, the IRS letter focused more on the group’s religious stance, asserting that “the bible [sic] teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates.”
“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.
In response, the group’s legal counsel pointed out in an appeal letter that tax-exempt groups do not need to be neutral.
“[IRS Exempt Organizations Director Stephen Martin] improperly interprets the requirement that an exempt organization not intervene for or against any candidate for public office as requiring neutrality on public policy issues,” the appeal letter reads.
“While exempt organizations must maintain neutrality with respect to political campaigns, they do not have to maintain strict neutrality on controversial public policy issues.”
The IRS’s published guide for 501(c)(3) organizations explains that they cannot support particular political campaigns but they can take divisive stances.
“Some Section 501(c)(3) organizations take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office,” the guide says.
On the other hand, the guide also explains that civic education groups like Christians Engaged cannot conduct activities that even indirectly support one party over another.
“Voter education or registration activities conducted in a biased manner that favors one candidate over another, opposes a candidate in some manner or has the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited campaign intervention.”
Regardless, several tax-exempt groups in Texas and elsewhere lean politically. The Center for the Healing of Racism is a nonprofit in Houston whose stances on systematic racism and the construction of race leave it a few shades shy of neutrality. A more Christian and overtly political example is the organization Pastors for Texas Children, a left-leaning public education advocacy group. Nationally, Christians Engaged’s appeal letter mentions the Libertarian Christian Institute and Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” initiative as examples.
Pounds celebrated the IRS’s new decision to grant tax-exempt status.
“I am incredibly thankful to the IRS for doing the right thing, and we look forward to continuing our mission of educating more followers of Jesus to pray for our nation and to be civically engaged,” she stated.
“When we stand up, our republic works for all Americans.”
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