IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has promised that the IRS will not change the standards it applies to religious tax-exempt organizations because of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling.
Koskinen gave written assurance to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in response to Pruitt’s inquiry into whether non-profit religious institutions would be denied tax-exempt status in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage,
Pruitt had written to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen about concerns that charities, churches, and religiously affiliated universities may be targeted for denial of their tax-exempt status based on comments by the U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli during oral arguments for Obergefell v.Hodges.
“Solicitor General of the United States Donald Verrilli, Jr., made comments to the effect that charitable organizations – including religious and educational institutions – may face the loss of tax-exempt status if they refuse to violate their religious beliefs prohibiting approval of same-sex marriage,” Pruitt wrote.
In his letter responding to Attorney General Pruitt, Commissioner Koskinen said:
“The IRS does not intend to change the standards that apply to 501(c)(3) organizations by reason of the Obergefell decision.”
Koskinen was more definitive in his assurance later in the letter, saying:
“The IRS does not view Obergefell as having changed the law applicable to section 501(c)(3) determinations or examinations. Therefore, the IRS will not, because of this decision, change existing standards in reviewing applications for recognition of exemption under 501(c)(3) or in examining qualifications of section 501(c)(3) organizations.”
Pruitt calls Koskinen’s letter “a victory for religious freedom in America and for the non-profit charities, churches, and religiously affiliated universities who feared they would be denied tax-exempt status by the IRS because their sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit them from participating in same-sex marriage.”
But, Pruitt says Koskinen needs to be carefully watched to ensure he remains true to his word:
“This formal statement from the IRS provides needed assurance that their First Amendment rights will be protected. To paraphrase President Reagan, we will trust but verify the comments of the IRS and continue to monitor the agency’s actions to ensure Americans aren’t targeted unfairly for exercising their religious beliefs in accordance with the First Amendment.”
Pruitt’s “trust but verify” approach may well be justified, given the way Koskinen qualified a similar assurance he recently gave Christian colleges when he promised they won’t be targeted for their values - “at this time.”