A federal court has dismissed three atheist
groups’ suit against the IRS, in which they accused the tax agency of
discriminating against nonreligious nonprofits.
American Atheists and its co-plaintiffs argued that tax filing
requirements for nonprofit atheist groups are unfairly tougher than they
are for religious nonprofits. They contended that churches and other
religious organizations should have to meet the same standards that other
nonprofits meet in disclosing information on their donors, employee salaries
and other details about the organization.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” said American Atheists President David
Silverman after the U.S. District Court in Kentucky handed down its
decision on May 19. “The court has upheld a prejudiced government
The atheists had argued that the IRS violates the First Amendment’s
Establishment Clause and the right to due process, guaranteed by the Fifth
Amendment. Generally, tax-exempt organizations must file a 990
financial form with the IRS, but religious and religious-related groups
The court found that the atheists had no standing to bring the suit,
in part because American Atheists could have applied to the Internal Revenue
Service for designation as a religious organization, but never had. It’s just
speculation that the IRS would reject the application, the court wrote; in
fact, the IRS has granted nontheistic groups status as religious nonprofits
in the past.
“A review of case law establishes that the words ‘church,’ ‘religious
organization,’ and ‘minister,’ do not necessarily require a theistic or
deity-centered meaning,” the court wrote.
The atheists held that to apply to the IRS for status as a
religious organization would go against their principles.
The court wrote that the plaintiffs had failed to established
that any concrete harm had come to them at the hand of the IRS. But the
atheists had argued that they could raise far more money if they could tell
their potential donors—as religious organizations may—that their names do
not have to be disclosed on documents available to the public.
The plaintiffs argued that the American government unfairly subsidizes
religious organizations that do not have to prove they do anything to benefit
the American people. That is special treatment that costs $71 billion in
annual tax revenue, the groups said.