July 30, 2009
Procedural Glitch Causes IRS to Halt Investigation of a Pulpit Freedom Sunday Church
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reportsthat the IRS has halted its investigation of Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minnesota because of a procedural glitch. The church was one of the more than 30 participants in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," an Alliance Defense Fund organized challenge to the Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) political campaign intervention prohibition. According to the article, the IRS investigation was not, however, based on the September 2008 sermon delivered as part of that effort but instead was based on a May 2008 sermon that criticized both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The procedural problem that IRS cited as the reason for dropping the investigation is almost certainly the Minnesota federal district court decision earlier this year that the IRS had delegated the authority to begin church inquiries to an IRS employee who was too low down in the IRS hierarchy, as we previously blogged about. As the government has apparently chosen not to appeal that decision (ending an investigation into Living Word Christian Center of Brooklyn Park), it is binding for all Minnesota federal district courts. It is not yet clear, however, whether the IRS is halting investigations of churches located outside of Minnesota even if they were authorized by the same IRS employee. Also, the IRS explicitly reserved the right to re-openthe investigation of Warroad Community Church, presumably if the new investigation is authorized by a sufficiently senior IRS employee under the Living Word Christian Center decision.
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