After taking heat from conservatives, IRS changes course to grant Christian group tax-exempt status

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Following legal pressure and significant backlash on social media, the Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday reversed course to grant a Christian nonprofit organization tax-exempt status.

The IRS had previously rejected the status to the group, known as Christians Engaged, arguing its mission of educating and empowering Christians to engage in America’s civics process was partisan by default since Christians usually align with Republican candidates.

In a rejection letter issued in May, the IRS informed Christians Engaged that it was disqualified from holding the status because the “Bible’s teachings are typically affiliated with the Republican Party and candidates.”

News of the group’s rejection immediately sparked outrage among conservatives and was picked up by many right-leaning media outlets.

But the nonprofit didn’t take the news lying down. It responded with a legal challenge to the rejection, enlisting help from religious liberty law firm First Liberty Institute, which filed an appeal last month.

On Wednesday, First Liberty Institute announced in a press release that the IRS had changed its mind following a review of the matter.

The law firm noted, “The reversal [came] after a national backlash against the IRS’s initial rejection of Christians Engaged’s nonprofit status.”

“This is truly great news for our client, as well as religious organizations and churches across America,” said Lea Patterson, counsel for First Liberty Institute, in a statement. “We are grateful the IRS changed course to bring its decision into line with the Constitution and its own regulations.”

Christians Engaged President Bunni Pounds added, “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. When we stand up, our republic works for all Americans.”

On its website, Christians Engaged states that it “exists to awaken, motivate, educate, and empower ordinary believers in Jesus Christ to: pray for our nation and elected officials regularly, vote in every election to impact our culture, [and] engage our hearts in some form of political education or activism for the furtherance of our nation.”

But the IRS originally disagreed, accusing the group of engaging in “prohibited political campaign intervention.”

“Specifically, you educate Christians on what the Bible says in areas where they can be instrumental including the areas of sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and borders and immigration, U.S. and Israel relations,” IRS exempt organizations director Stephen Martin charged in the initial rejection letter.

Under federal law, a religious organization can obtain tax-exempt status so long as it operates exclusively for charitable or educational purposes and does “not attempt to influence legislation” or “participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”