Democrats question Family Research Council’s tax status as ‘church’

Over the past few decades, the Family Research Council has established itself as a powerful advocacy and research organization. When it comes to struggles for LGBTQ and reproductive rights, for example, the FRC has long since overtaken the Christian Coalition as the preeminent group in the religious right movement.

But it turns out that calling the Family Research Council an advocacy and research organization may not be entirely accurate anymore, at least not when it comes to tax law. ProPublica recently reported:

According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and given to ProPublica, the FRC filed an application to change its status to an “association of churches,” a designation commonly used by groups with member churches like the Southern Baptist Convention, in March 2020. The agency approved the change a few months later. The FRC is among a growing list of activist groups seeking church status, a designation that comes with the ability for an organization to shield itself from financial scrutiny.

Tax-exempt secular organizations must file a specific type of tax return — a Form 990 — that lists staff salaries, major payments, grants, and more.

Churches, however, do not have to file Form 990. Also, church audits are more difficult and much less common than audits of other tax-exempt institutions.

Whether the Family Research Council should be considered a church is another question. From ProPublica report:

Does the organization hold regular chapel services? According to the FRC’s letter to the IRS, the answer is yes. He wrote that he holds services in his office building averaging over 65 people. But when a ProPublica reporter called to inquire about hours of service, a staff member who answered the phone replied, “We don’t have church services.” Elsewhere in the form, it is said that the employees constitute those who frequent its services.

In this spirit, Politico reported this week that more than three dozen House Democrats — who collectively scrutinize organizations that claim church status to avoid taxes — contacted the Internal Revenue Service about the FRC.

In their letter to the IRS, the lawmakers argued that the Family Research Council “pretending to be a church strains credulity: they do not hold church services, have no congregation or affiliated congregations, and do not possess good many of the other attributes of the churches listed by theirs.”

They added that while they “understand the importance of religious institutions to their followers”, the U.S. tax code “must be applied fairly and judiciously”.

As far as I know, the IRS has not responded. Watch this place.

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