Alliance Defending Freedom released audio today of a phone conversation that an IRS agent had with Ania Joseph, President of Pro-Life Revolution. In this recorded conversation an IRS agent, Sherry Wan, lectured Joseph about forcing its religious beliefs on others and then explains, inaccurately, that the group must remain neutral on issues like abortion.
Pro-Life Revolution, whom Alliance Defending Freedom represents, applied for tax-exempt status in January of 2011. The IRS regularly grants exemptions to religious, educational, and/or charitable organizations. The Texas-based organization operates under all three purposes.
After four months, Joseph received a letter from the IRS that requested more information and asked for an explanation of how her organization’s activities are educational or charitable. IRS rules specify that an organization only needs to operate under “one or more” of the tax exempt purpose. Joseph replied anyway and answered the IRS’s questions.
Then in March 2012, Joseph received a call from IRS Exempt Organization Specialist Sherry Wan, who told her that, in order to obtain a tax exemption, “You cannot force your religion or force your beliefs on somebody else…. You have to know your boundaries. You have to know your limits. You have to respect other people’s beliefs.” The IRS has approved applications for tax exemption for pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood and Life and Liberty for Women.
Here is the entire transcript in full (you can listen to the audio here):
(:00-:05) – [Unintelligible]
Agent Sherry Wan (:06-:41) – “…so you have your right. You have your freedom. You have your religious rights. You have a right to believe what you believe. You have the right to think about what you should do, what is right for you to do. OK. And, but, however, this freedom also [unintelligible] to other people. Other people also have the freedom. You know, for the personal view, maybe I go with you. However, I have to [unintelligible] the Internal Revenue Service. I have to stick with the law. Because, you know, we have to keep it neutral.
Client Ania Joseph (:41-:44) – I understand that you have to stick with the law.
Agent (:44-1:17) – Yeah, you have the religious freedom; the freedom of speech. And other people also have the civil rights; human rights. You cannot, you know, use your religious belief to tell other people you don’t have a belief, so I don’t believe you need the right to do this, start confrontation, protesting, uh, prot, uh, protest. [unintelligible] You don’t apply for tax exemption.
Agent (1:18-1:38) – Nobody will go after you as long as you don’t violate the law. But when you come to apply for tax exemption, you have to keep your action to, you know, exactly what is educational or religious, you know you [unintelligible].
Agent (1:41-1:56) – And like I said, you can’t, you have, your right to believe. You have your right of belief to do what you’re supposed to do. But you have no right to, against, other people’s beliefs.
Client (1:56-1:57) – I understand your concerns, but…
Agent (1:57-2:29) – There are really complicated, really subtle, you know, issues here. And they are also very complicated. This not you, you know, you and I, can’t solve it. This is a court. They decide, you know, whether it is right or not. So, but, as I said, we both, everybody, has the right to believe, have the right to do what is supposed to do. You believe your religion told you this is evil; that not supposed to do. [unintelligible]
Client (2:29-2:39) – My religion says that, you know, we have to reach out to women who are hurting, who are considering killing their own babies.
Agent (2:39-3:02) – You reach out to woman, you can’t do that. You can, you know, to educate the woman, to do, you know, you don’t do that. However, you can’t just like say, you know, the [unintelligible] woman, you fear the woman. You have to get the woman the opportunity to listen to you. You cannot force your religion or force your beliefs on somebody else.
Client (3:02-3:14) – Now can I ask you a question? [Crosstalk] I just have a question. I just have a question, Sherry. Is handing a brochure to somebody forcing somebody to do something they don’t want to do?
Agent (3:14-3:25) – No, handing a brochure [unintelligible] you can’t just leave and [unintelligible] brochure. You send the brochure to somebody, that’s right, that’s because you’ve just given them the opportunity to learn your belief.
Client (3:25-3:27) – Yeah, and that’s not forcing them…let me tell you what…
Agent (3:27-3:53) – You convince them. But when you take a lot of action, [unintelligible] other people. For example, when you, you know, go to, you know, the abortion clinic, and you found them [unintelligible], we don’t want, you know, to come against them. You can’t take all kinds of confrontation activities and also put something on a website and ask people to take action against the abortion clinic. That’s not, that’s not really educational.
Agent (3:53-4:01) – [unintelligible]
Agent (4:01-4:06) – So here, your action is based on more blind, emotional feelings.
Client (4:06-4:08) – It’s based on what?
Agent (4:08-4:10) – …an objective, factually a violation.
Client (4:10-4:12) –It’s a violation of what?
Agent (4:13-4:15) – [unintelligible]
Agent (4:15-4:46) – …we have a seminar. We have a workshop. We have materials [unintelligible]. Nobody will say you really forced your religion on them. But when you go to the door, go to the front of the abortion clinic, and [unintelligible] come for protesting activity, and then go up to the woman and tell the woman they should not do that, that is the kind of activity…
Client (4:48-4:51) – Actually, actually, a peaceful prayer vigil is not…
Agent (4:51-5:46) – You could speak to your value. OK. So that’s why, that’s why this is kind of like you know, kind of, you started from the beginning, I feel that when you’re talking to the [unintelligible] my religion, my religion [unintelligible]. And like I said, you have the right to believe. You have the right to do, your religion told you what’s right. You have a right to, you know, outreach to other people. But meanwhile, you have to know your boundaries. You have to know your limits. You have to respect other people’s beliefs. You have somebody else come to your door and know you don’t like them. When they come to you, how do you feel? [unintelligible]
Client (5:47-6:20) – OK, I understand what you’re saying and I think that we’re going to take it from here in a different manner. I’m going to have to seek some legal counsel in this case. So, I’m going to be contacting you through writing again through regular mail and we’ll take it from there. But I appreciate your phone call and your concerns and I understand your position. [Pause] Hello?
Agent (6:20-6:29) – Oh, OK, I’m trying yeah, you know, I’m just trying to say, OK, so you’re saying your claim to counsel, talking to your counsel, consulting legal counsel, right?
Client (6:30-6:51) – Yeah, I’m going to have to consult somebody because you know I understand your point, but I also understand as a ministry we have certain rights as well and I want to consult somebody and just take it from there and to get more information and…
Agent (6:51-7:32) – Yeah I can hear, yeah that’s good. I think, like I said, you know, you understand my point now? That means we have to, you know, we, we, everybody has their religious rights and religious belief. [unintelligible] But you have to respect other people’s beliefs, other people’s rights and not, you know, use some kind of confrontation, you know, practice, against, or court action against another group.
Client (7:33-7:36) – I understand your concerns and I will be in touch.
Agent (7:36-8:20) – That’s why I say, you know, I think this was, and if you wanted to send me something[unintelligible], you know, you are welcome to do so. OK? And if you, after you, you talk to your lawyer, or talk to your legal consultant, and if you say, OK, here we understand the position, I feel that you know, you know, we understand your position, understand your point and that we wanted to, wanted to, you know, get this kicked down quickly and we are willing to take those, no longer can do the activities, [unintelligible]. OK?
Client (8:20-8:23) – OK, so I will talk to somebody and I will be in touch from there, so.
Agent (8:23-8:48) – Yeah, I’ll just call you within one week, and then you know, I’ll just come back from my other project so then I can try to get everything done. And then you’ll be sending me something, you know, I’ll make a follow-up call within one week, and then we’ll see how we handle this situation. OK?
Client (8:48-8:52) – OK, great. I appreciate you getting back with me though.
Agent (8:52-9:57) – Yeah. I apologize for this because it is a holiday and everything and I’m off and on another project, so I apologize for the delay, but I think we’re talking about more time to discuss and think about your application and want to give you more time to think about this, too. So, I just want you to know that, you know, we understand your position, we know where you’re coming from, and we want to respect your religion, and we think that you think your intentions are good, OK? You want to do something good for the society, your religion, and we understand that. But meanwhile, we want you to be aware that, you know, when you conduct religious activities, meanwhile you have to respect other people’s beliefs, other people’s religion. You cannot use any kind of, you know, confrontation way, or to, or against other groups or devalue other groups, other people’s beliefs. OK?
Client (9:57-10:03) – I understand and we’ll be in touch. Thank you, though, for calling.
Agent (10:03-10:09) – OK, you’re welcome anytime. Thank you very much for your time.
Client (10:09-10:11) – Great, no problem. Have a great day.
Agent (10:11-10:12) – Oh, you, too.
In February of this year, the IRS requested yet more information in another letter and attempted to apply a standard for tax exemption to Pro-Life Revolution that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held to be unconstitutional in 1980. Alliance Defending Freedom pointed this out in a letter responding to the IRS, which finally granted tax-exempt status to the organization in a letter received Thursday.
“The IRS is a tax collector; it shouldn’t be allowed to be the speech and belief police,” said Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “The current scandal isn’t new but has merely exposed the abuse of power that characterizes this agency and threatens our fundamental freedoms.”
“The power to tax is the power to destroy. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We cannot allow the IRS to ruthlessly dictate against legitimate non-profits simply because it does not approve of the organization’s mission. It must be held accountable,” Stanley added.