After the recent admission by the IRS that employees targeted conservative groups, two prominent Christians have come forward claiming they too were harassed for their political views. Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelist, and Dr. Anne Hendershott, a Catholic professor and author, say they were audited by the IRS after making political statements that criticized liberal political groups.
Franklin Graham recently sent a letter to President Obama saying that he believes his organization was also unfairly targeted for extra scrutiny because the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association urged voters to back “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel” during last year’s presidential race.
The newspaper ads the group ran concluded with the words: “Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me (Billy Graham) that America will remain one nation under God.” Graham says the ads were purchased with designated funds given by friends of the ministry for that purpose.
Three months prior to the election, both Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association received notification from the IRS that a review would be conducted for the tax year ending 2010. Graham says that in light of the subsequent revelations, “I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence—or justifiable.”
Similarly, Hendershott says the IRS audited her in 2010 and demanded to know who was paying her and “what their politics were.” The professor says she was surprised she was being audited on business grounds since her freelance activity primarily consists of writing for Catholic outlets for which she receives no pay. Her husband was not included in the audit even though he brings in most of the family’s income and the couple filed a joint tax return.
Her writings for the Catholic Advocate soon ceased because, Hendershott admits, the IRS audit silenced her. If her suspicions are true, this may have been its chilling intention.
“I haven’t written for them since the audit, because I was so scared,” she said (records show her last article for the organization was on July 10, 2010 — the same month the IRS audit unfolded).
So far, she has only shared her story with friends and those close to her, but in light of the recent IRS scandal, she has decided to speak out.
“It was clear they didn’t like me criticizing the people who helped pass Obamacare,” she said of the audit,” later adding, ”The IRS is very frightening.
It should be noted that in both of these cases, the evidence that the audits were politically motivated is slight and circumstantial. Indeed, just a few weeks ago such claims that the IRS was targeting certain groups because of their political beliefs would have been dismissed as conspiratorial and paranoid. But the recent admission by IRS officials that such misconduct has occurred more than 500 times makes the allegations shockingly plausible.
Even if the audits were not performed merely to shut down dissent, though, the impression that such actions have occurred can have a chilling effect on the speech of American citizens. For a respected public intellectual like Hendershott to be frightened into silence shows the serious nature and importance of the scandal. The IRS has done serious damage to its reputation and the reputation of the entire federal government. It will be a long time before conservative and Christian groups once again believe that audits are means to address tax issues rather than a tool used for suppression of political speech.