IRS Investigated Groups for Teaching about the Constitution

The IRS didn’t just investigate groups based on their perceived political views, but also targeted groups for “educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights” or advocating limits on government. The Washington Post reports:

At various points over the past two years, Internal Revenue Service officials targeted nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution, according to documents in an audit conducted by the agency’s inspector general.

The documents, obtained by The Washington Post  from a congressional aide with knowledge of the findings, show that on June 29, 2011, IRS staffers held a briefing with senior agency official Lois G. Lerner in which they described giving special attention to instances where “statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run.” . . . the agency revised its criteria a week later.

But six months later, the IRS applied a new political test to groups that applied for tax-exempt status as “social welfare” groups, the document says. On Jan. 15, 2012 the agency decided to target “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement.,” according to the appendix in the IG report, which was requested by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has yet to be released.

As Politico notes, the agency also scrutinized “groups focusing on specific issues including ‘government spending,’ ‘government debt,’ . . . and all groups that ‘criticize[d] how the country is being run.’”

The Wall Street Journal similarly reports:

The Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative groups went beyond those with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names—as the agency admitted Friday—to also include ones worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to “make America a better place to live,” according to new details of a government probe.

The investigation also revealed that a high-ranking IRS official knew as early as mid-2011 that conservative groups were being inappropriately targeted—nearly a year before then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a congressional committee the agency wasn’t targeting conservative groups.

Such viewpoint discrimination is forbidden, even in allocating discretionary government benefits such as tax exemptions where certain types of content discrimination might be permissible. As the Supreme Court noted in a case involving a college’s discrimination against a religious magazine in access to student-activity funds, ”viewpoint discrimination is . . . an egregious form of content discrimination.” (See Rosenberger v. Rector & Vistors of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 829 (1995).) The IRS employees responsible should be terminated.

In other news, the Obama administration declared on Thursday that the federal civil-rights laws Title IX and Title IV require colleges to adopt campus speech codes broader than those that have been previously struck down by some federal appeals courts. It also demands very stringent snooping and micromanagement of students’ private lives. Education writer Joanne Jacobs writes that the new rules are so broad that they effectively “make every student a sex harasser.” The civil-liberties group FIRE objects to the new rules here at this link. So the IRS is not alone in disregarding the First Amendment.