Tony Ortega Wants You To Know He’s Infuriated by Tax Exemptions for Churches

For a while now it has been something of a passion project of the militant atheists like Tony Ortega to gin up support for removing tax free status churches and other religious institutions depend on as a means of destroying systems of belief they disagree with.

Citing what Ortega calls “some completely infuriating reasons”, he laments the high bar activists like he and Jeff Augustine face in their self-proclaimed crusade to hurt churches.

Included below is a bonkers interview conducted by Ortega with fellow conspiracy theorist Jeffery Augustine. In it they discusses code U.S. Code 26 § 7611, which pertains to the authority to initiate an audit of a church’s tax exempt status and lay bare the impotent circular logic of the anti-religion movement.

Augustine begins by explaining that until 1998 the number of IRS officials who could open an audit of any church’s exempt status was actually somewhat considerable. Watch how quickly Ortega zeroes in on Scientology as his intended target:

JEFFREY: Until that time, a revocation hearing of churches tax exempt status could have been called by one of four “regional commissioners” of the IRS.

THE BUNKER: That’s no longer the case?

JEFFREY: No, it’s not.

THE BUNKER: Why can’t a regional commissioner call for an audit of Scientology today?

JEFFREY: Because there are no regional commissioners.

THE BUNKER: Say what?

JEFFREY: Congress eliminated the position of regional commissioner in the “IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998.”

THE BUNKER: Is this a joke?

JEFFREY: No, I’m afraid it’s not. And the unintended consequence is that it’s become much harder for the IRS to question the tax exemption of churches.

THE BUNKER: How so?

JEFFREY: Well, a really good example happened in 2007 when the IRS tried to audit the tax exempt status of the Living Word Christian Center in Minnesota. The investigation into the church was approved by an IRS official who had the title “Director of Exempt Organizations, Examination.”

THE BUNKER: That’s a pretty heavy title.

JEFFREY: Well, it wasn’t heavy enough. The federal district court in Minnesota found that the “Director of Exempt Organizations, Examination” wasn’t high enough in the IRS structure to call for a revocation hearing for a church. According to existing law, only a regional commissioner is high-ranking enough to call for such an investigation.

THE BUNKER: And that’s a problem because there aren’t any actual regional commissioners.

JEFFREY: Exactly.

THE BUNKER: So even though the IRS wanted to investigate Living Word Christian Center and had sent an official notice of it…

JEFFREY: The judge sided with the church and said the IRS couldn’t do that because it hadn’t been initiated by a regional commissioner.

THE BUNKER: A position that no longer exists.

JEFFREY: Precisely.

THE BUNKER: So is the IRS completely powerless?

JEFFREY: No, it just means that the bar for Leah is set even higher than it might have been before 1998. With no regional commissioners able to call for an investigation, she’d have to go to the top and convince the IRS commissioner himself, a man named John Koskinen, to call for an investigation. Or Koskinen’s boss, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. And according to the current law, one other person could initiate a probe, the Commissioner of Tax Exempt and Government Entities, a woman named Sunita Lough.

THE BUNKER: Well, that’s how Scientology pulled it off in 1991, right? They went directly to the commissioner himself, Fred Goldberg. So Leah will pretty much have to do the same thing?

JEFFREY: Yes, but Commissioner Koskinen has already been battered and bruised. The IRS was under heavy bombardment by the GOP during Obama’s final two years and its budget was severely slashed. I don’t know if Koskinen is really interested in the kind of fight that Scientology would put up.

THE BUNKER: Sounds like a push from the president himself might be what’s needed. Has Trump said anything about investigating churches?

JEFFREY: Yes he has, actually. He’s very much against it.

THE BUNKER: Ah. Well, it appears Leah’s work really is cut out for her.

JEFFREY: I’m afraid so.

“I’m afraid so” — with those words Ortega’s hard hitting piece grinds to a failing halt.  He can’t seem to grasp why there would be no political will to deprive churches of their legal tax exempt statuses and imagines that somehow Leah will find a loophole.

Poor Tony. As with so much he rails against, the facts and the law are not on his side in this instance.  Has is hatred blinded him to the point where even the government is now in on this conspiracy against him? In answer to that question, all we can say is “I’m afraid so”e

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