How Focus On The Family Claims To Be A ‘Church’ To Avoid Taxes: Report
Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization in Colorado, began calling itself a “church” to the IRS in September 2016.
Right Wing Watch recently requested documents from the IRS regarding this classification.
Focus on the Family asked the IRS reclassify it as a “church” in May 2016.
Focus on the Family claimed it needed the church exemption to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s mandate on insurance coverage for contraception, which it did not have to pay per the Obama administration and the Hobby Lobby ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
By declaring itself a church to the IRS, Focus on the Family would be able to avoid some retirement plan regulations, no longer have to pay unemployment taxes or provide unemployment benefits to any employees who are fired.
The IRS said in August 2016 that Focus on the Family did “not appear to line up very strongly” with the list of 14 legal characteristics of a church.
However, Focus on the Family’s lawyers at the law firm Holland & Knight reportedly told the IRS in September 2016 that Focus on the Family “satisfies all or most” of the 14 church characteristics.
The lawyers claimed that Focus on the Family’s 600 employees are both its “ministers” and the members of its “congregation,” notes Right Wing Watch.
The lawyers insisted that Focus on the Family’s “chapelteria,” a cafeteria that also hosts staff worship services, is a “place of worship.”
The lawyers said that Focus on the Family’s lawyers’ board of directors are its “elders” and Focus on the Family’s president, Jim Daly, is its “head deacon and elder.”
Daly holds no degree in religion, but rather a earned a Master’s degree in business from Regis University, noted The Denver Post.
The lawyers also claimed that people who listen to Focus on the Family’s radio programs are “an extension of its congregation,” even though listeners do not consent to being labeled part of the “congregation.”
The IRS reminded Focus on the Family that it doesn’t have Sunday church services because its employees are worshiping at their home churches.
In response, Focus on the Family’s lawyers told the IRS: “Focus on the Family does not hold services on Sunday, but neither do many other churches such as the Seventh Day Adventists.”
The lawyers also went back in history to the 1700s, and cited John Wesley who began his career by starting a “Holy Club” whose members were associated with other churches before forming the first Methodist church:
So it is that as Focus on the Family continues to institutionalize, this church also is beginning to resemble others, subject to Focus on the Family’s own distinctive approach and messaging.
Focus on the Family’s lawyers also defended the organization’s real work — radio shows and publishing — by citing the Bible:
Matthew and Mark record that Jesus got into a boat and went out a little ways to speak to crowds on the shore. Many biblical scholars think this is because of the amplification properties of water…
The notion that a “church” is simply a building where people gather to hear a sermon every Sunday is not only antiquated, but also inconsistent with the description of the church found in the New Testament.
As a matter of Biblical record, churches in the New Testament were people’s homes, and there were no tax breaks.
The IRS gave in to Focus on the Family’s twisted logic, and allowed it to become a church on Sept. 27, 2016.
Anthea Butler, a professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, told Right Wing Watch that any non-profit could try to use Focus on the Family’s status to declare itself a church:
A church is basically a pastor, with pastoral staff and members. They don’t have that. They have employees.
[Based on Focus on the Family’s interpretation of the IRS law] any nonprofit organization can be a church. Everybody’s going to try to call themselves a church now.