The Freedom From Religion Foundation gained 100 new members within 24 hours of announcing it was suing the Internal Revenue Service for failing to enforce electioneering restrictions on tax-exempt churches, says co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. The Madison-based group saw 69,000 hits to its website that same day - a number that would likely have been higher had routine maintenance not interfered with access to the website, Gaylor adds.
A Nov. 14 Isthmus article on the lawsuit also drew heavy traffic. And Madison attorney Rich Bolton, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the group, has been inundated with emails thanking him for taking the case, Gaylor says.
"He's never seen anything like this," she says.
Gaylor says the intense interest follows an election season where pastors openly challenged federal tax rules that prohibit nonprofit tax-exempt institutions from endorsing candidates or being involved in political activities.
"There are a lot of people upset about church electioneering," she says.
Filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, the lawsuit charges that Douglas Shulman, the commissioner of the IRS, has failed to address "open and notorious violations" of electioneering restrictions by churches since 2008.
One such violation cited by the lawsuit includes "blatantly partisan full-page ads" from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that ran in papers throughout the country leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
A spokesman for the IRS said the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits.