Focus on the Family, the Religious Right organization founded by child psychologist James Dobson, has begun to call itself a church--a move that could allow it to avoid filing public tax documents with the 1RS.
As reported in late February by People For the American Way's "Right Wing Watch" blog, Focus on the Family last fall posted on its website a 2015 tax form that declared its charity status as a "church, convention of churches or association of churches."
In an "explanation of church status," Focus on the Family stated that the 1RS informed the organization that it's no longer required to file tax information about the group's $89 million budget. Instead, the group said it would make limited financial information available to donors on its website.
The 1RS requires most nonprofits to file an annual Form 990, which outlines an organization's revenue and expenses and provides transparency on how tax-exempt nonprofits fulfill their missions. Houses of worship and other religious institutions are exempt from the Form 990 requirement; they do not have to file the form or make their records public. The exemption has been couched as a church-state separation protection that prevents the government from getting overly entangled with a religious entity's operations.
Gail Harmon, an attorney who has advised nonprofits on tax law for more than 30 years, told "Right Wing Watch" she was shocked by Focus on the Family's claim to be exempt from the Form 990 filing requirement.
"There's nothing about them that meets the traditional definition of what a church is," Harmon said. "They don't have a congregation, they don't have the rites of various parts of a...