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Gazette Premium Content President Obama, The Great Divider, lets IRS abuses continue

The Gazette editorial Published: August 18, 2013

In the heart of liberty rests the right to pray and espouse views the government may not like. It's the first order of business in the United States Constitution, a document created only to limit authority of a president and Congress.

So we were pleased to see President Barack Obama express outrage at a federal audit that showed the IRS - an agency under his direct command - had harassed and abused citizens with causes contrary to his own. To lessen the blow of the audit going public, the head of the IRS planted a question that to facilitate another ranking IRS official in releasing the information in an apologetic manner. It was a scandal of historic proportions, met with an underwhelming response by a public jaded to government misconduct.

Not long ago, circumstances typically improved after the whistle was blown on gross government atrocities. We've impeached presidents for actions that barely threatened the American way of life. This was to be no exception in a country that historically has learned from its mistakes. Obama promised serious action "so that such conduct never happens again."

He is the president of the United States. He controls the IRS and appoints the people who run it. If President Obama wanted serious action, he would get it.

Alas, we've seen no meaningful action aside from words and a firing that would, at least, create the appearance of action. In fact, the president alludes to the IRS crimes as one of several "phony scandals."

President Obama has done nothing substantial to stop the IRS from separating some Americans from the rights God gave them and which the Constitution ostensibly protects. He continues to govern as The Great Divider.

"Even after the scandal went public, it was nonstop," said Peter Shinn, director of Cherish Life Ministries in Arlington, Va. "They continued stiff-arming us and doing everything they could to block our approval (as a 501c3 non-profit). The agent kept asking about our prayer activities and said we had to pray from all sides."

The First Amendment prohibits government from interfering in the free exercise of religion, so an IRS agent should have no interest in the prayer content or activity of a pro-life activist seeking tax-exempt status. Yet Shinn explained that "pray from all sides" was part of the agent's demands that he promote the option of abortion.

We seriously doubt the IRS instructs Planned Parenthood, a 501c3 non-profit abortion provider, to advocate against abortion. If they're making such a demand, how dare they tell abortion opponents to advocate abortion rights.

The invasive questions and bullying of Shinn continued through July, more than two months after Obama's promise that such conduct would never happen again.

Shinn isn't alone. The Gazette interviewed several anti-abortion activists who told detailed stories of IRS harassment, long after the president promised change. Chicago attorneys Peter Breen and Sally Wagenmaker submitted more than 250 pages of evidence to Congress they say provides "irrefutable evidence" of ongoing IRS harassment of conservatives. Wagenmaker tells of an IRS agent who goes by "Mrs. R. Medley" who is "hostile," won't let her speak on her client's behalf and continuously interrogates the lawyer about her client's "prayer presence at the abortion facility."

"Targeting began in 2009, after the Obama administration took office," Breen said. "We were not seeing this sort of harassment by questioning before that time."

President Obama has either done little to stop the abuse or he can't control his employees. His failure to end this desecration of our country's highest values - freedom of religion and speech - divides the country into those allowed to speak and pray freely and those who do not. The Great Divider, indeed.

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