A church organization is furious that agents of the Internal Revenue Service officially are allowed to pose as clergymen to deceive and obtain information from churchgoers.
The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, told The Christian Post, "It is an absolute disgrace that IRS undercover agents can pose as members of the clergy. It is the role of government to protect religious freedom and the First Amendment, and not to use it to gather information and spy on American citizens."
Mahoney's ire was raised by an article in the New York Times
, which said IRS undercover investigators officially are allowed to pose as members of the clergy.
governing undercover operations, dating from 2012, specifically state, "An undercover employee ... may pose as an attorney, physician, clergyman, or member of the news media" and may "request information from an attorney, physician, clergyman, or other person who is under the obligation of a legal privilege of confidentiality and the particular information would ordinarily be privileged."
"When one considers that the IRS under President [Barack] Obama has had serious charges of using the IRS for political intimidation and harassment of people that the White House considers it opposes, like conservative groups, religious organizations, this just adds another level to those charges and concerns," Mahoney told The Christian Post.
"Is the IRS investigating churches and ministers who've said they cannot, in good faith, comply with Obamacare? These are very serious questions when you have a government agency sending undercover agents in as clergy to gather information and spying on American citizens.
"I cannot think of a more serious issue, and I think the IRS needs to explain why they are doing this," Mahoney told The Christian Post.
In an interview with Christian News Wire
, Mahoney said, "The church and faith community are now being faced with the reality that the government is sending IRS agents, pretending to be members of the clergy, into Christian meetings, gatherings, and services for the distinct purpose of the government 'spying' on them.'
"American citizens must confront the fact that when they share their concerns with a member of the clergy, they may be talking to an IRS agent.
"This is clearly a trampling of the First Amendment, which affords to every American the right to freely worship according to the dictates of their conscience without government interference and harassment."
The Times noted that IRS undercover agents have more latitude than even Justice Department agents when working undercover.
The IRS told the Times that it was "not aware of any investigations where special agents have ever posed as attorneys, physicians, members of the clergy or members of the press specifically to gain information from a privileged relationship."
The IRS would not say, however, whether agents have gone undercover to obtain information that is not considered legally privileged; for example, "the type of confidential information someone shares with a lawyer or doctor."
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