What do you get when angry atheists and political punishers start working toward the same goal? Another note in the death knell for liberty.

How did two such groups come into cooperation? When one sued the other – naturally.

In this scary-yet-true story, two key American freedoms are at stake – the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. The Freedom From Religion Foundation would like to deprive churches and pastors of both these rights.

Like other 501(c)3 organizations, churches are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity. When the IRS couldn’t determine who was responsible to investigate violations, tax audits of churches were temporarily suspended in 2012, pending the final adoption of IRS rule changes.

Bureaucracies take a long time to get things done, so it’s not surprising that an atheist group grew tired of waiting for the IRS to decide who had the authority to make those decisions. The Freedom from Religion Foundation sued the IRS for failing to punish churches accused of political activity – and to force it to re-institute political audits. Though the case was dismissed, it appears they’ve won.

It turns out the IRS’ settlement involved nothing less than assuring the FFRF that it would do just what FFRF asked them to do – scrutinize churches for political speech, even more strictly than previously passed regulations allowed. Quin Hillyer calls it “a secret pact,” as the IRS has since refused to release documents related to the settlement.

David French suspects a “sue and settle” racket going on here. This is a crooked method the Environmental Protection Agency uses to get the Department of Justice to set regulations: a group demanding a certain action sues the government, who then settles the lawsuit by agreeing to do what said group asked, plus paying their attorneys’ fees. This process effectively passes regulations while conveniently avoiding the normal process of approval.

From all appearances, that’s what the Freedom From Religion Foundation also did. And now it’s crying “victory!”

The IRS will resume monitoring churches for political speech (if it ever really stopped). All investigations are supposed to be on hold while Congress investigates the IRS for targeting conservative political groups, yet the agency has already produced a list of 99 churches for the DOJ to investigate.

This is concerning for many reasons. Given the scrutiny the agency is under right now, the IRS should be doing less monitoring and having more monitoring itself. Do we really trust the IRS to fairly judge whether churches are engaging in political speech? How impartial can any regulations be that were created to satisfy a group called Freedom From Religion?

In their arguments, FFRF took aim not only at pastors endorsing specific candidates but nonpartisan church statements applying their faith’s teaching to practical issues. This is where things gets scary. Will churches no longer be allowed to teach their people how their faith affects life?

Follow the implications, and the gloves come off. Freedom from Religion Foundation is not interested in religious liberty at all – in fact, as its name says, it would rather do away with churches and religion altogether. Though “freedom of conscience, and of faith practices, is the founding freedom of this nation,” it has declared war on the very idea of religion, seeking to take away citizens’ right to practice their faith in any meaningful way.

The standard suggested by FFRF would be far more than a gentle slippery slope toward trammeled religious freedom; it would be an avalanche that buries and then asphyxiates liberty.

Now the FFRF has employed the IRS to fight its battles, attack its enemies and restrict their freedom of speech.

No wonder its headlines declare “victory!”

But it’s a resounding defeat for liberty.

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