Attorney General Luther Strange on Tuesday hopped on board a 15-state appeal to the Republican Congressional leadership to “take steps to prevent the IRS from choosing” to deny religious organizations their current tax-exempt status in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision last month in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“The U.S. Solicitor General recently indicated … the federal government might decide based on Obergefell that certain religious organizations may no longer qualify as tax exempt under the Internal Revenue Code and also that contributions to these organizations are not deductible as charitable contributions,” read the five-page letter co-signed by 15 state attorneys general addressed to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner.
“We take very seriously the religious freedom of our States’ citizens and believe that Congress should take action now to preclude the IRS from targeting religious groups in this way.”
By a 5-4 decision in June, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are guaranteed the right to marry under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, striking down prohibitions against same-sex marriage in either the state laws or constitutions of each of the 15 states that wrote the appeal to Congress, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Arizona, West Virginia, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin.
Echoing a meme circulating among conservative circles, the letter seized on a comment by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrili, the Obama administration’s chief advocate to the high court that the tax-exempt status of organizations who object to same-sex unions by refusing to accommodate them will “certainly be an issue” for the federal government going forward.
The state attorneys general — all are Republicans — sought to prevent the contemplation of any such issues by asking for swift pre-emptive action to signify Congress’ intent to preserve the tax status of all religious organizations currently exempt, regardless of their practices regarding newly-legal marriage licensees.
“Stripping tax-exempt status from religious organizations in this way-a severe consequence that could force groups to exit the public sphere-would be an unprecedented assertion of governmental power over religious exercise,” the searing communique continued.