Documents obtained by Right Wing Watch detail how Focus on the Family, a religious conservative and anti-abortion organization, convinced the IRS in 2016 to classify the nonprofit as a church, releasing it from financial transparency rules and requirements like unemployment benefits.
In its correspondence with the IRS, Focus argued that they needed to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, and claimed that the IRS was infringing upon their First Amendment rights by initially pushing back against the request.
From Right Wing Watch:
In the letter, the attorneys claimed that Focus’ 600 employees are both its “ministers” and the members of its “congregation” and that the organization’s “chapelteria”—a cafeteria that also hosts regular staff worship services—is its “place of worship.” The organization’s board of directors are its “elders.” It’s president, Jim Daly, is its “head deacon and elder.” Listeners to the organization’s radio programs are “an extension of its congregation.”
“Without question, Focus on the Family’s members’ daily work is worship,” the attorneys wrote. At another point, they said: “Focus on the Family believes that all of its members are ministers.”
To the IRS’ statement that “there appears to be nothing distinctive” about the organization that “would cause a group of believers to coalesce around” it, the attorneys pointed to the “great number of pilgrims” who visit the organization’s Colorado Springs headquarters and the “wait list that Focus on the Family has for employment.”
Experts cited by Right Wing Watch raised concerns that a worrisomely wide swathe of nonprofit organizations now have an opening to declare themselves a church.
Focus has slightly softened the delivery of its aggressive evangelical message in recent years, but its “moral behavior standards,” according to the documents obtained by Right Wing Watch, still include “non-biblical divorce,” “homosexual acts,” “transgender identity or expression” and “the use of Abortifacients” as grounds for punishment. Their website continues to promote forms of conversion therapy, and the organization’s retired founder, James C. Dobson, infamously suggested in 2012 that the Sandy Hook was a result of God’s wrath against gay marriage.
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Focus on the Family also has connections to the Pence family, most recently hosting Karen and Charlotte Pence on their book tour for Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President. “I promise you, Focus on the Family, you have an unwavering ally in President Donald Trump,” Pence told the organization in 2017.
The State Department also recently gave Focus on the Family federal AIDS relief funding to pressure South African teenagers into signing purity pledges, ThinkProgress reports. The organization was a prominent peddler of misinformation during the AIDS crisis in the U.S. in the late ‘80s.
What I mean to say is, congratulations to this pious crew on their much-deserved new role in American life.