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Christian Coalition Wins Skirmish With IRS, But Loses War.

To hear Pat Robertson's attorney Jay Sekulow tell the story, it was a battle worthy of David and Goliath.

The Christian Coalition, denied tax exemption by the Internal Revenue Service in 1999, sued the federal tax agency the following year and now has emerged victorious, according to Sekulow.

"This is a clear and concise victory for the Christian Coalition," crowed the attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice in a press release issued July 25. He also told the Associated Press, "[We got] everything we asked for."

Sekulow's claims were certainly dramatic, but they had one flaw: They have only the most tenuous connection to the truth.

Here's what really happened: The Christian Coalition sued the IRS to get its tax exemption back retroactively for one year only -- 1990. The IRS, probably not interested in engaging the Coalition in court over an obscure matter like this -- conceded and refunded the Coalition the grand sum of $169.26.

As for the Coalition getting "everything we asked for," the truth is almost the exact opposite. When they filed the lawsuit in February of 2000, Sekulow and other Coalition attorneys asked a federal court in Virginia to find that the IRS had discriminated against the group because of its conservative viewpoint and to say that the entire federal tax code as it relates to political activity by non-profit organizations is unconstitutional.

It was an audacious move -- but a hopeless one: too. Sure enough, the court didn't even deal with those issues. When the IRS offered to settle the lawsuit, the Coalition quickly agreed and the matter was brought to a close. U.S. District Judge Henry Morgan Jr. issued a one-line order directing the IRS to give the Coalition a refund. End of story.

The legal significance of the ruling is practically nil, said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "They won a minor skirmish after the war was already lost," said Lynn. "This doesn't change the fact that the IRS denied the Christian Coalition's tax exemption due to its partisan political activities. This is a rather hollow victory in my book."

Continued Lynn, "The Christian Coalition is using every legal shenanigan to confuse the public about its partisan political character. I don't consider a $169 refund much of a victory. That won't pay for a tank of fuel for Pat Robertson's jet."

Tax experts consulted by Americans United said it's not uncommon for an organization that has lost or been denied tax-exempt status by the IRS to try to get it back retroactively for one or two years. In the Christian Coalition's case, asking to get it back for 1990 made sense, since the group, which was founded in late 1989, would have had only limited activities its first year.

Lynn added that he expects the Coalition to use the decision to confuse religious leaders by claiming that the IRS has exonerated the organization. He vowed that Americans United will work to counter these claims.

"Religious leaders who chose to align with Robertson and distribute the organization's biased `voter guides' in church are still jeopardizing their own tax-exempt status," Lynn said.
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Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Next Article:Religion And Politics: Some Guidelines For Campaign 2000.

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