Cover Story

Agent exegesis

"Agent exegesis" Continued...

Issue: "Rejecting religious liberty," June 15, 2013

While Lois Lerner, the IRS official in charge of the tax-exempt division, refuses to testify before Congress and goes on paid administrative leave, lawmakers are trying to discover who made the decisions that led to the abuses at one of the most maze-like bureaucracies in bureaucratic Washington.

“What we first heard always stretched credibility,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who described the IRS as a place where people seek signatures and counter-signatures for paperwork. “I mean, employees at ground zero of the federal bureaucracy going rogue? I’m willing to bet there’s still a lot more we’ll discover.”

Lawmakers continue to express ire that government officials did not inform Congress sooner. IRS leaders knew as early as 2011. Federal investigators had possession of internal IRS emails detailing the practices last July. Republicans are dismayed that Lerner, the person at the center of the scandal, had been tapped to lead the IRS’ new administrative duties under the trillion-dollar Obamacare program. In implementing what has been called the largest set of tax law changes in more than two decades, the IRS will gain expanded powers to gather information, monitor compliance, and impose fines for a new healthcare system that already has amassed about 20,000 pages of regulations. The IRS is asking for nearly 2,000 full-time employees for its Obamacare office.

Back in Texas, McCoy’s Christian Voices for Life coordinates activities with about 20 area churches representing several denominations. Roughly 1,000 people at two locations participated in the group’s most recent life chain event. They stood alongside high-volume highways on a Saturday afternoon holding signs with messages like “Jesus Forgives and Heals” and “Abortion Kills Children.” Occasionally a person stopped, confessed to having had an abortion, and asked for prayer. This fall McCoy will begin a program for training area teenagers on how they can help friends who are experiencing crisis pregnancies or suffering from past abortions.

Meanwhile in Cedar Rapids, participants with the Coalition for Life of Iowa go to a Planned Parenthood site every week to pray. Martinek’s own preferred prayer time is Wednesday nights when there is a teen clinic. It is something she wouldn’t have been able to do if she had given in to the IRS.

With the money raised as a nonprofit, the Iowa coalition from more than 15 area churches has expanded its offerings. It holds educational forums on such topics as stem-cell research and end-of-life decisions. And, several times a year, hundreds of coalition members gather at a local church. Carrying signs, they march a mile along busy First Avenue toward Planned Parenthood. Once there, they spread out along the front of the building and pray. Sometimes they hear testimonies. Sometimes they wave to the people passing. Sometimes they write messages in chalk on the sidewalk: Jesus Loves You. Life. Often they draw a cross beside the words. That’s about as confrontational as the coalition gets. They don’t obstruct Planned Parenthood’s parking lot or entrance.

Martinek likes to think they have been effective. She said local abortions have gone down 37 percent in the last three years. The local Planned Parenthood office has reduced its hours. After the rallies and prayers the coalition members do what many groups in middle America do: head over to the local pizza joint. They did not have to report that activity to the IRS.

Singled out

Some of the religious, pro-life, and pro-marriage groups targeted by the IRS

Samaritan's Purse and Billy Graham Evangelical Association

Status: Audited

Details of conflict: Ran ads in the spring of 2012 supporting a North Carolina amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage and ads before last November's elections asking citizens to "vote for Biblical values"; audit began last fall.

Iowa Right to Life 

Status: Applied in October 2008, approved after legal intervention

Details of conflict: Asked to provide advertisements, schedules, syllabuses, handouts, a summary of each person's speech, a letter from the coalition's board pledging, under the threat of perjury, that they would not organize pickets or protests against the local Planned Parenthood chapter.

James Dobson's Family Talk Action Corporation 

Status: Applied in fall 2011, approved after 19 months and an initial denial

Details of conflict: An IRS agent told a Dobson attorney that the exemption status would not be granted because Dobson had criticized President Obama

Cherish Life Ministries 

Status: Recently denied

Details of conflict: Told it didn't qualify as a nonprofit organization because it was a political organization

National Organization for Marriage 

Status: Lawsuit being filed by NOM against IRS

Details of conflict: Claims the IRS leaked the group's confidential tax documents to the pro-homosexual Human Rights Campaign

The Biblical Recorder 

Status: Audited for the first time in 180-year history

Details of conflict: Audit came after the paper published ads supporting the state's marriage amendment

Z Street 

Status: Lawsuit pending after 2.5 years

Details of conflict: Told it may be assigned to "a special unit in the D.C. office to determine whether the organization's activities contradict the Administration's public policies"

Christian Voices for Life 

Status: Applied in 2010, approved after legal intervention

Details of conflict: Asked by the IRS "do you education on both sides of the issues in your program?"

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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