The Background: According to the Wall Street Journal, the Internal Revenue Service's scrutiny of conservative groups went beyond those with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names to also include ones worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to "make America a better place to live." The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has been conducting an internal audit of the IRS's handling of the applications process. The audit follows complaints last year by numerous tea-party and other conservative groups, says the WSJ, that they had been singled out and subjected to excessive and inappropriate questioning. Many groups say they were asked for lists of their donors and other sensitive information.
Franklin Graham recently sent a letter to President Obama saying that he believes his organization was also unfairly targeted for extra scrutiny because the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association urged voters to back "candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel" during last year's presidential race.
The newspaper ads the group ran concluded with the words: "Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me (Billy Graham) that America will remain one nation under God." Graham says the ads were purchased with designated funds given by friends of the ministry for that purpose.
Three months prior to the election, both Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association received notification from the IRS that a review would be conducted for the tax year ending 2010. Graham says that in light of the subsequent revelations, "I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence—or justifiable."
Graham adds that after the election they received notice that the organizations continued to qualify for exemption from Federal income tax and that their returns were accepted as filed.
Why It Matters: Last fall, claims like those by Graham that the IRS was targeting certain groups because of their political beliefs would have been dismissed as conspiratorial and paranoid. But the recent admission by IRS officials that such misconduct has occurred more than 500 times makes the allegations shockingly plausible.
But why would government employees target their fellow citizens for extra scrutiny? As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says, "the bureaucrats in question probably thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved."
Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don't know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn't just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.
And its not just the Tea Partiers. Christians who support traditional marriage are increasingly viewed as hateful bigots who are denying Americans their right to marry someone of the same sex. If Christians are committing such evil against their neighbors, the thinking goes, why shouldn't organizations run by hateful bigots, like Billy Graham, receive extra-scrutiny?
Within a few months this scandal will fade from memory, and all that will be left is the rules and regulations that are put in place to prevent further abuses. Closer scrutiny will likely prevent such direct harassment by the IRS from getting out of control in the future, but these incidents have revealed that Bible-believing Christians have fully entered an era when our values are considered not just wrong, but hostile and worthy of suppression. Are we prepared for the abuse that will come from being faithful to God's Word?