Rutledge Urges Congress to Protect Religious Organizations’ Tax-Exempt Status

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July 02, 2015

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced that she has sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to take steps to protect the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations.

“Last week’s majority opinion from the Supreme Court specifically notes that ‘[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,’” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Protecting the religious conscience of Arkansas citizens is critically important following the Court’s decision, and I urge the Arkansas Congressional Delegation to speak with their leadership and colleagues so that Congress may take action to stop the IRS from infringing on rights of religious organizations.”

The letter, sent to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), was prompted by statements before the U.S. Supreme Court by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. during oral arguments in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. When asked if religious-affiliated institutions could have their tax-exempt status revoked if they opposed same-sex marriage, Verrilli said “it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

Rutledge and attorneys general from 14 other States ask that Congress modify the Internal Revenue Code to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from revoking the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations that disagree with the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

“Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, citizens have the right to exercise their religion freely without government pressure to change their minds or penalties for unpopular beliefs,” the letter states. “We take very seriously the religious liberty of our States’ citizens and believe that Congress should take action now to preclude the IRS from targeting religious groups in this way.”

The letter says stripping the tax-exempt status of religious organizations would be “an unprecedented assertion of governmental power over religious exercise.”

“To allow the IRS to proceed in this way would suggest that the IRS has the power to target disfavored beliefs in any religious organization, to effectively decide the truth or correctness of a religious belief, and to penalize as a matter of ‘policy’ a mainstream belief held by groups that long have received tax-exempt status,” the attorneys general wrote.

Rutledge signed the letter along with attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here.

About Attorney General Leslie Rutledge

Leslie Carol Rutledge is the 56th Attorney General of Arkansas. Elected on Nov. 4, 2014, she is the first woman and first Republican in Arkansas history to be elected to the office.

Rutledge, a native of Batesville, Arkansas, is a graduate of Southside High School, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. She began her legal career as Clerk for Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Josephine Hart, now Associate Justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court. She was appointed Deputy Counsel for Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and later served as Legal Counsel on the Mike Huckabee for President Campaign. She served as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Lonoke County and in subsequent service as Attorney for the State of Arkansas’s Division of Children and Family Services. She also served as Deputy Counsel at the National Republican Congressional Committee before joining the Republican National Committee as Counsel. Prior to her election as Attorney General, she founded and practiced law at The Rutledge Firm, PLLC. Rutledge lives in Little Rock.

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