“Chilling.” It is the term most used to describe the IRS targeting scandal that has rocked the nation and the Obama Administration.
Yet, it ironically has a very specific constitutional definition, a double entendre that aptly applies to this abuse of government power, regardless of whether the Left fully understands its gravity.
To most, the fact that the IRS targeting was chilling means that it is scary. And it is.
The IRS – the most feared of federal government agencies – was able to single out an entire group of citizens for nearly three years and counting, hold them up in a bureaucratic process, and label them as deserving of intrusive scrutiny all because they held a certain set of beliefs.
Not only is this blatant abuse of power chilling in that it is frightening, it is also chilling in that it is patently unconstitutional.
In its constitutional meaning, according to Blacks Law dictionary, a “chilling effect” is “The result of a law or practice that seriously discourages the exercise of a constitutional right, such as … the right of free speech.”
As more and more is coming to light each day, it is readily apparent that this is exactly what the IRS targeting accomplished. Congressional testimony this week shows just the tip of the iceberg of the chilling effect this scandal has had. Groups were denied funding because they were being essentially investigated by the IRS. Other groups of citizens decided to abandon seeking tax exempt status or just abandon their right to free association altogether.
They were targeted by their government – our government – merely because they held and advocated conservative ideals. But the bigger danger that concerns so many Americans is that these citizen-led groups could have been pro- this or anti- that, and what the Obama Administration’s IRS did was absolutely unconscionable and unconstitutional.
Some on the Left have recognized this undeniable fact.
Representative Sander Levin (D-MI), Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said at this week’s congressional hearing on the matter that each of these improperly targeted groups “are owed an apology.”
Yet, while this IRS scandal sends a chill up the spine of most Americans, it sends a thrill up the leg of a surprising number on the Left.
Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), listed specific beliefs held and advocated by some of the targeted organizations, and sarcastically questioned, “Social welfare? I think not.” “Let’s stop the charade of pretending that these are social welfare organizations,” he demanded, asserting his normative conclusion about what beliefs are and are not acceptable.
Well, what Representative Blumenauer advocated is exactly what the IRS did and is still doing. The IRS decided that groups that espouse certain views, those that “criticize how the country is being run” or advocate to “make America a better place to live” or that have “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their name, are somehow undeserving of being granted tax-exempt status and require further intrusive scrutiny into the positions they hold.
Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) went further, distorting the truth and attacking the targeted groups for their beliefs. “None of your organizations were kept from organizing or silenced,” he said. He then blamed the targeted groups for being targeted by the IRS, “If you didn’t come in and ask for this tax break, you would have never had a question asked of you. You could go out there and say anything you want in the world.”
“Each of your groups is highly political,” he continued, reiterating their specific conservative beliefs, “you are all entrenched in some of the most controversial political issues in the country.” “With your applications, you are asking the American public to pay for that work.”
Representative McDermott doubled down on his attack the next day when he told Fox News: “[T]hey can still operate. They can still collect money. They can still put out advertisements. They can use their First Amendment right. Nobody in the IRS stopped them from doing that.”
Yet, the groups who testified the day before explained precisely how their rights were violated, how the targeting had a chilling effect on their speech, and how they did in fact lose financial contributions.
Not to let the facts get in the way, Representative McDermott went on to question the veracity of the targeted groups that testified, saying, “That was not under testimony or under oath.”
Regardless as to whether some on the Left chose to accept it, groups were unconstitutionally targeted. They were singled out merely because of their beliefs. The effect was to silence, hinder, or frighten many of them.
The targeting was bad enough, but for Members of the United States Congress to aggressively attack these U.S. citizens for simply for exercising their fundamental constitutional right to free speech is beyond the pale. Our elected leaders – and in fact our government as a whole – work for us, the American people.
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Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He is author of the New York Times Bestseller, Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can’t Ignore. He hosts “Jay Sekulow Live” – a daily radio show which is broadcast on more than 850 stations...
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