Covington, KY—Oral arguments begin on Thursday at 10 AM CT in the case of American Atheists v. IRS. The nonprofit organization is suing the government tax-collection agency for discrimination, alleging that churches receive unconstitutional preferential treatment over other nonprofit organizations. If the suit succeeds, it could mean churches would then have to publicly disclose their finances, including income, expenses, and salaries of key employees.
The atheist organization will host a rally outside the courthouse beginning at 9 AM CT to show support for the fight for equal treatment in the tax code.
“This is about equality,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “This is about the U.S. government holding everyone to the same standard and giving the same rights to all. No exceptions. We are seeing religions getting preferential treatment by our government, a government that is supposed to serve us and respect us all as equals, and that’s wrong. It’s not what this country is about and it’s unpatriotic.”
American Atheists receives tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3), but because the organization is not classified as religious, it costs American Atheists, along with all other secular non-profits, significantly more money and time each year to keep that status because it must file a Form 990. In this lawsuit, American Atheists and the other plaintiffs are demanding that all tax-exempt organizations, including those characterized as religious by the IRS, have the same requirements to achieve tax-exempt status.
One difference between religious and secular classifications by the IRS is treatment of donations. While churches are under no legal obligation to disclose the names of their donors, secular non-profits such as American Atheists must disclose the names of donors who give more than $5,000, and that information becomes public record. This is problematic for American Atheists and many other non-profits because there is a stigma associated with atheism and many atheists remain in the closet about their lack of faith. As a result, would-be donors may be pressured into giving much less than they otherwise would in order to keep their information out of the public eye.