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Focus on the Family Defends IRS Classification as a 'Church'

First Lutheran Church Middleton, Wisconsin

In February, the activist organization Right Wing Watch took Focus on the Family to task for changing its IRS classification to that of a church. The famed conservative Christian organization is now defending the reclassification by claiming that it did so in order to protect its donors from scrutiny.

In the article posted on their website,  Right Wing Watch called Focus on the Family's reclassification "puzzling" and speculated that James Dobson and company did so as a way to circumvent growing pressure from the federal government to accommodate LGBT and abortion rights. Right Wing Watch explains:

There has been considerable worry among Religious Right organizations, particularly when they feared the election of a Democratic president in 2016, that laws guaranteeing equal rights for LGBTQ people could threaten their nonprofit status if they discriminate in employment, facilities use, or in other ways. After the Obergefell marriage equality decision, a cottage industry sprung up of organizations giving legal advice to religious conservative groups on how to insulate themselves from nondiscrimination laws, including by developing doctrinal statements making clear their religious objections to LGBTQ rights.

In another arena, fights over access to contraception have caused nonprofits and even some for-profit corporations to cite religious beliefs in order to avoid allowing their employees to access copay-free birth control through insurance. One group that has always been exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage requirement is churches and other houses of worship.

Since publishing their initial article, Right Wing Watch uncovered that "Focus on the Family told the IRS in 2016 that it needed to be recognized as a church in order to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s mandate on insurance coverage for contraception and other regulations, according to documents that we have obtained from the IRS."

Speaking to The Christian Post, Focus on the Family's vice president of communications Paul Batura said that the news stories about the transition to being classified as a church give "sinister and fictitious motives to our application."

Batura went on to explain that,

In recent years there have been several occasions in which non-profit organizations were targeted for information, including the names and personal details of their donors. In order to protect our constituents' privacy, and because Focus does, in fact, meet the definition of a church under IRS regulations, we applied for and received this designation. In doing so, we have joined the company of many other Christian non-profit parachurch organizations ... who have done likewise. Having said this, we remain committed to the highest standards of fiscal transparency and will continue to make our financial statements available.

While not directly addressing the latest piece by Right Wing Watch that claims Focus on the Family's motives were driven by the desire to circumvent growing discrimination laws, Batura did say: