By Peter J. Smith
SAN DIEGO, October 19, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filed by Catholic Answers, a Catholic apologetics ministry, which charged that the federal tax collection agency routinely bullies churches and non-profit organizations into political silence, especially when it comes to speaking out on moral issues.
Catholic Answers and its founder Karl Keating filed the suit with the US District Court based in San Diego on April 3, 2009, in response to the IRS levying an excise tax of $831.41 plus interest for 2004 and 2005 on Catholic Answers and founder Karl Keating for what the IRS judged were “acts of political intervention.”
Keating had posted an e-letter in April 2004 on the Catholic Answers website in response to questions during the US Presidential election. Keating had explained that Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry “is nominally Catholic, and is vociferously pro-abortion” and was “wrong on all five ‘non-negotiable’ issues [abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, euthanasia] listed” in Catholic Answer’s influential “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics.” (VGSC)
The IRS acted when Frances Kissling, president of the pro-abortion advocacy group Catholics for Free Choice (CFFC), filed a complaint with the tax agency demanding it revoke Catholic Answers’ tax-exempt status for engaging in political activity.
In a letter to the agency, Kissling insisted that the IRS investigate Catholic Answers because its example would “threaten to encourage further non-compliance by other 501(c)(3) organizations.”
The IRS slapped the fines on Catholic Answers and Keating, saying that while the Voter Guide met federal guidelines for non-profits, the e-letter and Voter’s Guide taken together appeared to constitute political activity prohibited to non-profits.
Catholic Answers had confidence that the case had a good chance to help liberate churches, ministries, and non-profits from the political shackles imposed on them by vague IRS rules regarding what qualified as political intervention and what did not.
However, Chief U.S. District Judge Irma E. Gonzalez, of the Southern District of California, dismissed the lay ministry’s suit and added that it was “unlikely” Catholic Answers would receive future political recrimination from the IRS during an election cycle. Gonzalez judged that most of the organization’s claims were moot, since the IRS eventually abated the tax and refunded the money, including interest. This refund occurred in April 20, 2009.
“There is no indication that the combination of circumstances giving rise to the government’s assessment of excise taxes against CA are likely to be repeated,” wrote Gonzalez. “IRS’s decision to assess the taxes was based on a combination of the content of the specific E-Letters mentioning Senator Kerry, along with the online publishing of the VGSC in the context of an election year.”
Gonzalez denied Keating’s request for a declaration that the e-letters did not constitute “acts of political intervention,” saying that Catholic Answers formation of a 501(c)4 political action group, Catholic Answers Action, along with its separate website, gave a forum in which e-letters of a political nature would be acceptable “political campaign intervention.”
LifeSiteNews.com sought comment from Catholic Answers regarding the decision. Jimmy Akin, spokesman for Catholic Answers, told LSN that they were still in the process of reviewing the decision and would be able to comment at a later date.
(With files from Courthouse News Service: PDF of decision available here)
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