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FIRST ON FOX: The Family Research Council (FRC), a Washington, D.C.,-based Christian non-profit, defended itself Tuesday after Democratic lawmakers called for a federal probe into its tax status.
Forty House Democrats — led by Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif. — penned a letter Monday to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig, expressing their concern regarding FRC’s tax status. The lawmakers referenced a ProPublica report from July which showed that FRC successfully changed its tax status to an “association of churches” in 2020.
“This is nothing new for Democrats,” FRC Co-Founder and President Tony Perkins told Fox News Digital in an interview. “They want to silence all religious organizations. They really ought to get their facts straight because the facts that are advanced in this letter are inaccurate.”
“We’re not a church,” he continued. “We’re what is recognized as an ‘association of churches’ because we work with churches. We’ve got about somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 active churches that we work with; we have a number of ordained members of our staff. So, we work with churches.”
Perkins added that Democrats are trying to use “any lever they can to silence Christians.”
In March 2020, FRC requested that the IRS change the group’s tax classification from a publicly-supported organization to an associaiton of churches and recognize Perkins as a religious leader, ProPublica reported. The IRS granted the request four months later.
A tax-exempt organization that is classified as a church doesn’t have to file IRS Form 990, which lists a series of information items, including total contributions, expenses, staff salaries, board members and large payments to contractors, the Democrats wrote in their letter Monday. In addition, such a classification provides an organization protection from potential IRS investigations.
“We understand the importance of religious institutions to their congregants and believe that religious freedom is a cherished American value and constitutional right. We also believe that our tax code must be applied fairly and judiciously,” the Democrats wrote in the letter. “Tax-exempt organizations should not be exploiting tax laws applicable to churches to avoid public accountability and the IRS’s examination of their activities.”
However, Perkins said the group previously wasn’t previously required to file 990 forms, but still chose to.
“For us, it’s about being able, in Washington, D.C., to be an organization that has a statement of faith, to be able to hire people and to pursue our mission in accordance with our faith and not be imposed upon by regulations from the local government,” he told Fox News Digital.
“This has been a process over the years,” Perkins said. “We’ve had to change our status just to avoid the mandates from government, whether it’s to provide for abortion in our health care policies or it’s to hire people who actually have views contrary to our statement of faith.”
On its website, FRC describes itself as “a nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to articulating and advancing a family-centered philosophy of public life.” The group says it seeks to inform the public about issues “that affect the nation from a biblical worldview.”
The Democrats requested a federal review of the IRS’s policy related to “political advocacy organizations” self-identifying as churches. They also asked the IRS to conduct a review of FRC’s tax-exempt status.
“FRC claiming to be a church strains credulity: they do not hold religious services, do not have a congregation or affiliated congregations, and do not possess many of the other attributes of churches listed by the IRS,” the Democrats continued. “FRC is one example of an alarming pattern in the last decade – rightwing advocacy groups self-identifying as “churches” and applying for and receiving church status.”
Several of the Democrats who signed the letter — including Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and Jamie Raskin, D-Md. — previously endorsed a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) which listed the FRC and other well-known Christian organizations as “hate groups.” SPLC has branded FRC an “anti-LGBT hate group” since 2010.
Critics have claimed that the SPLC brands mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups,” placing them on a list and a map with truly hateful organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. The “Intelligence Project,” the SPLC division that monitors “hate groups,” began as a project to monitor the KKK and other White supremacist organizations.
In 2019, the SPLC fired its co-founder, Morris Dees, in the wake of claims of racial discrimination and sexual harassment that traced back decades. Amid this scandal, a former SPLC staffer came forward, claiming in the New Yorker that the organization uses its “hate group” accusation to exaggerate hate in a fundraising scheme to “bilk” donors.
In August 2012, a terrorist targeted FRC in Washington, D.C, planning to shoot everyone in the building and put a Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich by each victim’s head. The shooter opened fire, striking a security guard, who successfully tackled him until police arrived, preventing the intended massacre. The shooter, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges including terrorism, told the FBI that he found FRC on the SPLC’s “hate map.” The SPLC condemned the shooting, but it has kept FRC on the “hate map.”
“It is time we extinguish all bigoted beliefs, address the urgent threat that extremism and hate groups pose on marginalized communities, and end actions motivated by hate. I hope you will join me in supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center and their commitment to making a safer and more inclusive nation,” DeLauro said in 2021 in a video message endorsing the SPLC report.
Spokespeople for DelBene and Huffman referred Fox News Digital back to the letter. DelBene’s spokesperson also noted the SPLC report designating FRC as a hate group.