Many wise people have observed that a government that gives you everything can also take it all away. For all its flaws, our nation was founded on a healthy skepticism of government power, and the most recent scandal at the IRS demonstrates yet again that such skepticism is well founded. The IRS admitted to heavily and disproportionately scrutinizing conservative organizations that were applying for tax exempt status. Those organizations were subjected to lengthy wait times and invasive questioning, including in at least one case, inquiries into the content of the prayers of the organization’s leaders.
While many of us feel tempted to throw up our hands in frustration with “politics as usual,” I believe this incident actually goes beyond the simple abuse of authority by the party in power. This latest revelation is part of a larger pattern of behavior that seeks to marginalize institutions of faith. The ultimate goal is to render churches and similar organizations inert, and to force Americans to turn to the government rather than to churches or private charity for help and guidance.
Obtaining tax exempt status allows donors to obtain a tax write-off for their contributions to particular charities. Thus a charity is severely impeded from raising money until it has its 501(c)(3) status confirmed. The IRS’s hostility to many of these organizations has been correctly characterized as political discrimination, but it is also religious discrimination. An IRS released audio file records IRS agent Sherry Wan lecturing the head of a faith-based charity about the need to keep her religious beliefs to herself in order to obtain tax exempt status. Is it much of a stretch to imagine this unconstitutional standard being applied to churches?
The federal government was never designed to meet every human need, and thus private charities and churches have always played a vital role in a healthy society. In fact, there are innumerable ways in which faith-based charities do superior work when compared to their government-run counterparts. First, they tend to use funds far more efficiently. Government agencies strive to use all their allotted funds before the end of the fiscal year to justify their existence and expand their departments. In contrast, private charities must constantly demonstrate to donors that their dollars are being put to good use. If donors are not satisfied, funding will dry up. In short, government programs are rewarded for spending, while private charities are rewarded for results.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.