IRS commissioner stonewalls on prying into pro-life group’s prayers

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Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee Friday, acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller was unable to answer whether it was appropriate for the IRS to inquire about the prayers of an organization seeking 501(c)(3) status.

Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock pushed Miller for answers about some of the pro-life organizations the IRS reportedly targeted when the groups sought tax-exempt status. The Thomas More Society law firm has alleged that the federal tax collector pressed these organizations to reveal the content of their prayers.

“Mr. Chairman, I have with me a 150-page document given to me by the Thomas More Society detailing a number of pro-life organizations throughout the country which in application for 501(c)(3) status were given horrible instances of IRS abuse of power, political and religious bias, and a repression of their Constitutional rights,” Schock said, submitting the documents to the IG for Tax Administration.

Schock went on to ask about some of the alleged IRS abuses against the pro-life groups.

“A letter from the IRS office of exempt organization specialist in El Monte, California, specifically the Pacific Coast Division — I would note this is not in the Cincinnati division — to the Christian Voices for Life of Fort Bend County in Sugarland, Texas dated March 31, 2011, that I have here with me today. They were asked specifically, again this is a pro-life group, ‘In your educational program do you do education on both sides of the issues in your programs?’ Mr. Miller, your knowledge of the 501(c)(3) application, is that an appropriate question to ask?” Shock asked.

“Sir, I’m going to be honest and I’m not going to be able to speak to a specific development letter in a specific case I don’t know that I can do that under 6103,” Miller responded.

“Okay, let me ask you about another letter that was received by a pro-life group, this one in Iowa. Their question specifically asks from the IRS to the Coalition for Life of Iowa, ‘Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers.’ Would that be an appropriate question to a 501(c)(3) applicant? The content of one’s prayers?” Schock asked.

“It pains me to say I can’t speak to that one either. But that’s an —” Miller said

“You don’t know whether or not that would be an appropriate question to ask an applicant?” Schock interrupted Miller.

“Speaking outside of this case, which I don’t know anything about, it would surprise me that that question was asked,” Miller said.

Schock followed it up with another question.

“And finally during another applicant’s conversation or back and forth they were asked specifically, ‘Please detail certain signs that may or may not be held up outside of a Planned Parenthood facility.’ Would that be an appropriate follow up to an applicant for 501(c)(3) application?”

Miller responded that he did not know the context but that it did not “sound like the usual question.”

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