Cedar Rapids anti-abortion group gains legal help in IRS fight

A Cedar Rapids-based anti-abortion group attempting to gain tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service has acquired the services of a nationally-recognized “pro-life” law firm.

The Thomas More Society, a self-described “not-for-profit, public interest law firm dedicated to fighting for the rights and dignity of all human life,” issued a press release this week announcing that it would defend Coalition of Life for Iowa in its battle to obtain 501(c)(3) tax-exemption.

In order for an organization to be given such a tax-exemption it must be organized and operated exclusively for purposes deemed by the IRS as worthy of exemption. Those purposes include actions items such as relief of the poor or underprivileged, advancement of religion, combating juvenile delinquency, advancement of education or science, maintaining or erecting public buildings and monuments, lessening the burdens of government, eliminating prejudice and discrimination or defending human and civil rights secured by law.

The Coalition for Life of Iowa, which was incorporated with the Iowa Secretary of State in May 2008, made application with the IRS for the tax exemption. Upon receiving the application, the IRS requested additional information to determine if the group’s focus qualified for the exemption. For instance, the IRS, according to a letter sent to Coalition of Life Iowa, wanted to know if the organization would engage in partisan political activities or seek to influence legislation.

Coalition for Life initially answered the follow-up requests, but took offense when the IRS began to question the educational value of prayer meetings held by the organization outside of Planned Parenthood.

“We respectfully request a definition of the following words: organize, picketing, protesting,” Susan Martinek, president of the Coalition, wrote in June 10 correspondence. “This is so we know what guidelines we need to be sure we are within with future action. Also we respectfully request where in the Form 1023 Application for Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(c)(3) this is addressed?”

The IRS responded on June 22 with the specific information needed in relation to the prayer meetings:

Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood are considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3). Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) may present opinions with scientific or medical facts. Please explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organization spends on prayer groups as compared with the other activities of the organization.

In a phone conversation … it was asked about certain signs that may or may not be held up outside of Planned Parenthood. Please explain in detail the signs that are being held up outside of Planned Parenthood and explain how they are considered educational.

This request was answered by Chicago attorney Sally Wagenmaker who charged the IRS with “repeatedly seeking information that is unnecessary and in violation of constitutional principles affecting the Coalition’s supporters.”

“The Coalition for Life,” she wrote, “is dedicated to principles of preserving life. Consequently, the Coalition certainly would never engage in or sanction activities that incite people to violence, involve destruction of property, or are otherwise illegal. The fact that certain individuals in very isolated, egregious situations involving abortion clinics have caused tragic personal harm to others should not mean the coalition is denied its tax exempt status or subjected to repeated, unwarranted inquiries about its own educational, religious and charitable activities promoting sanctity of life principles.”

Although Wagenmaker asserts in her response to the IRS that the Coalition’s “efforts to organize and hold educational forums has comprised nearly all of its tax-exempt activities,” the organization’s online calendar is nearly exclusively a list of upcoming and frequent prayer vigils outside of either Planned Parenthood in Cedar Rapids or the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City.

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