Tuesday, November 08, 2005 –

Free speech and the right to oppose policies you consider unjust may be even more at stake than we had thought under the present Administration. According to a Los Angeles Times story cited on What Really Happened, one of Southern California’s largest and most liberal churches could be losing its tax-exempt status, merely because of an anti-war sermon its now-former rector delivered, two days before the 2004 election.  

The Internal Revenue Service has warned the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, that it may be losing its tax exemption, citing a sermon by the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004. In his lesson that day, Regas (who had previously opposed from the pulpit both the Vietnam War and 1991’s Gulf War), imagined Jesus in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry.  

According to the story, he did not take sides or tell parishioners who to vote for, but he did criticize the war in Iraq, stating that Jesus would have called Bush’s pre-emptive war “a failed doctrine,” and that “Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster.” Regas was rector of All Saints from 1967 to 1995, and was a guest speaker at that particular service.  

The response from the IRS was far from immediate, but the church received a notice on June 9 that “a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church,” citing an LA Times account of the Regas sermon. Perhaps most ironic is the fact that the IRS cited the Times’s coverage of the sermon, and not the sermon itself, as its basis for the decision; the Times went beyond quoting from the sermon’s text and characterized it as a “searing indictment of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq,” which also described “tax cuts as inimical to the values of Jesus.”  

The IRS letter specifically cited these news report characterizations of Regas’s words. Meanwhile, current Rector J. Edwin Bacon was quoted as saying, “We are so careful at our church never to endorse a candidate. One of the strongest sermons I’ve ever given was against President Clinton’s fraying of the social safety net.” Phone calls by the Times, attempting to reach IRS officials in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles for comment, were not returned.  

A further consideration is that churches all over California have been taking stances on both sides of the controversial Proposition 73, which would ban abortions for minors without parental notification. Some at All Saints believe they are being singled out in spite of the tolerance for this widespread political activity. Bacon said the church had retained the services of a Washington law firm with expertise in tax-exempt organizations, and told his congregation: “It’s important for everyone to understand that the IRS concerns are not supported by the facts.”  

In an October letter to the IRS, Marcus Owens, the church’s tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax exempt section, said, “It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season.” – ST  

staff reports – Free-Market News Network