May 24, 2013
Westboro Baptist Church’s Tax-Exempt Status Challenged
Posted on Dec 18, 2012
By Tracy Bloom
Despite its vitriolic activities and protests that are political in nature, the hate group Westboro Baptist Church has somehow managed to keep its IRS tax-exempt status. But after its publicly announced plans to picket the funerals of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment,” as church spokeswoman (and daughter of its pastor, Fred Phelps) Shirley Phelps-Roper tweeted, tens of thousands of people have signed petitions hoping to change that.
Three petitions have popped up on the White House’s We the People site to investigate and strip the bigoted organization of its tax-exempt status. All three have garnered the more than 25,000 signatures needed for the Obama administration to review them. A separate petition calling on the White House to legally classify the Topeka, Kan.-based WBC as a hate group has also reached the threshold for an official White House response, with more than 185,000 people signing it as of Tuesday morning.
Some of these petitions have been promoted online by the hacktivist collective known as Anonymous. The group targeted Westboro Baptist Church on Monday, hacking its website, taking over Phelps-Roper’s Twitter account and releasing personal information about the church’s members on the Internet.
Of the three tax petitions, the “Investigate the IRS Tax-Exempt Status of the Westboro Baptist Church” one has gotten the most people to sign it so far. It states:
Lastly, a third petition asks for both the removal of Westboro Baptist’s tax-exempt status and to have the organization reclassified as a hate group. According to the petitioner:
All of this raises some important questions about the organization’s tax-exempt status, including—and perhaps most notably—why the group has been allowed to keep it in the first place. As Slate explained in 2011:
As Slate notes, the IRS has the power to revoke the church’s 501(c)(3) status only if it finds Westboro Baptist is operating for “mostly nonreligious purposes”—for instance, if it’s involved in political causes and activities.
What’s clear now is that petitioners outraged that Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t pay federal income taxes have gotten the White House’s attention on this matter. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to respond.
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