Question: The Church of Freedom encourages its members to file tax
The Church of Freedom encourages its members to file “tax protestor” returns with the IRS, objecting to both the government’s failure to use a gold standard in payment of tax liabilities and its sizable expenditures for social welfare programs. These returns routinely are overturned by the Tax Court as frivolous, with delinquent taxes, penalties, and interest due, and the church has engaged in a long-standing, sometimes ugly, battle with the IRS over various constitutional rights. Meanwhile, church members continue to file returns in this manner. Ellen overheard church members talking about “roughing up” the IRS agents who were scheduled to conduct an audit of various members’ returns. She went to the IRS and informed them of the danger they might encounter. At the IRS’s direction, Ellen then took a key clerical job at church headquarters. In this context, she had access to useful documentation and over a period of a few months gave to the IRS copies of church mailing lists and other data. She also helped record key conversations among church leaders and search the church’s trash for other documents. In other words, Ellen helped the IRS build a case of civil and criminal tax fraud against the church and various members. All these materials were given voluntarily to Ellen by church leaders in her context as an employee. Church members never suspected that she was working with the IRS. After delivering the various materials to the IRS, Ellen quit her job with the church and severed all communications with the IRS. After the parties were charged with fraud, the government’s case was found to be insufficiently supported by the evidence, and no penalties were assessed. Afterward, church leaders sued Ellen in her role as IRS informant, charging that she had violated their First Amendment rights of free association and their Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. Governmental employees are immune from such charges, but Ellen was only an informant to the IRS and not its employee. Can the church collect damages from Ellen for informing on them?
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