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article imageTax exempt status of Westboro Baptist Church may be in question

By Greta McClain     Dec 27, 2012 in World
Washington - A petition drive to have Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) labeled as a hate group continues to gain steam, as well as a petition calling for the group to be stripped of their non-profit status.
Westboro made headlines again earlier this month after they announced plans to protest the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting. Outrage over the planned protests quickly spread, prompting the hacktivist group Anonymous to launch the OpWestboro campaign.
After Westboro's announcement, a petition was submitted to the White House's We the People website, asking the White House to revoke WBC's tax exempt status. The petition states:
"The WBC does not engage in any charity comparable in scope to their public image. The WBC is not and should never have been considered a legitimate church for tax-exemption purposes....{because it} is not inclusive of its surrounding community, restricting membership."
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in order for a church or religious organization to gain tax exempt status, it must
1. Be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific, or other charitable purposes.
2. No substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation.
WBC's primary activity includes protesting military funerals. The group also maintains a website called "God Hates Fags", and has a history of protesting public hearings on legislation regarding Gay and Lesbian rights. It is that activity that some believe could jeopardize their tax exempt status.
No information regarding WBC's charitable work within the community could be located. Two emails to WBC from Digital Journal requesting examples of charitable work conducted by WBC, as well as inquiring about their protests of legislative hearings went unanswered.
Another petition filed on We the People calls for WBC to be legally listed as a Hate Group. The petition has already garnered more than 280,000 signatures, making it the most popular petition to be submitted through the White House website.
Action was indirectly taken against WBC in August when President Obama signed the Honoring America's Veterans Act. The act states that protests of military funerals much be held a minimum of 300 feet away from the funeral and protesters cannot demonstrate one hour before the funeral is scheduled to begin, or one hour after the funeral has concluded.
Although there are no substantial legal ramifications to being labeled a hate group, some believe an official designation by the government, along with possible violations of the IRS' 501(c)3 (non-profit) regulations, could result in a removal of WBC's tax exempt status.
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