Saturday, September 16, 2006

The IRS vs. All Saints Church: The Saga Continues

IRS Orders All Saints to Yield Documents on '04 Political Races
By Louis Sahagun -- L.A. Times Staff Writer
September 16, 2006

Stepping up its probe of allegedly improper campaigning by churches, the Internal Revenue Service on Friday ordered a liberal Pasadena parish to turn over all the documents and e-mails it produced during the 2004 election year with references to political candidates. All Saints Episcopal Church and its rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, have until Sept. 29 to present the sermons, newsletters and electronic communications.

The IRS investigation was triggered by an antiwar sermon delivered by its forme rrector, the Rev. George F. Regas, at the church two days before the 2004 presidential election. The summons even requests utility bills to establish costs associated with hosting Regas' speech. Bacon was ordered to testify before IRS officials Oct. 11.

The tax code bars nonprofits, including churches, from endorsing or campaigning against candidates in an election.Facing the possible loss of his church's tax-exempt status, Bacon said he plansto inform his roughly 3,500 active congregants about the investigation during Sunday'sservices. Then he plans to seek their advice on whether to comply.

"There is a lot at stake here," Bacon said in an interview. "If theIRS prevails, it will have a chilling effect on the practice of religion in America."The congregants will have two choices: consent to the IRS request, or decline, whichcould result in the matter being referred to the Department of Justice and, possibly,U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, All Saints' lead attorney Marcus Owens said."The congregation's decision will be clear on Sunday or a few days afterthat," Owens said.

"My guess is they will be unlikely to respond demurelyand acquiesce in the government's request at this stage. The issues are too close to the quick of their fundamental religious beliefs."Members of All Saints have a long history of social activism. The sermon that attractedthe IRS' attention was delivered by Regas, who was well-known for opposing theVietnam War, championing female clergy and supporting gays and lesbians in the church.

The medieval-looking church, just east of City Hall, seems to embody staid, moneyedOld Pasadena, but the liberal outlook goes back decades. During World War II, itsrector spoke out against the internment of Japanese Americans. Regas headed the church for 28 years before retiring in 1995.

Exactly how the congregants will make their feelings known on the IRS issue is yetto be decided.

Read it all here.

8 comments:

Thomas+ said...

The wierdness of religion in America is that we have to play by certain rules to maintain our tax exempt status. it is likely that All Saint's violated the rules. Of course, lots of Evangelical churches violate the rules as well. But they have the good fortune of backing the party in power.

I think the rules are good ones. Churches should speak out on issues, not campaign for particular people. And, if All Saints violated that rule, they likely deserve the punishment they will receive. However, it sure would be nice if this rule were enforced justly across the land.

Just my thoughts.

Will said...

Do the names Falwell, Robertson, Hagee, Dobson, D.James Kennedy, and nearly every other Tele-Evangelist in America sound familiar? They've been getting away with using the pulpit and their churches for political causes for years. I confronted Dobson's "Focus On The Family" to find that they maintain seperate banking accounts for religious and political activities ... which means that they are free to do whatever they want as long as the money goes into the right account. Jerry Falwell's organization ignored my request, however I would bet that all of these organizations maneuver things in that way so as to operate as political-religious entities while retaining their tax exemptions.

Will

Barry Fernelius said...

he rules?
Have you read the sermon in question? You can easily find it. Here's the first few paragraphs:

Thomas+,

Have you read the sermon in question? Here's the first few paragraphs.

Sermon Title: If Jesus debated Senator Kerry and President Bush...

"I’m grateful that so many came to this debate two days before the election. Many
have described the November 2nd Presidential election as the most critically important
election of our lifetime. Wherever you place yourself with this sentiment, I doubt that any of
you look at this election with indifference.

Let me quickly make two statements to relieve some of the anxiety you bring to this
debate.

Jesus does win! And I don’t intend to tell you how to vote.

...

Good people of profound faith will be for either George Bush or John Kerry for
reasons deeply rooted in their faith. I want you to hear me on this. Yet I want to say as
clearly as I can how I see Jesus impacting your vote and mine. Both Senator Kerry and
President Bush are devout Christians—one a Roman Catholic and the other a Methodist. "

Honestly, does that sound like a violation of the rules?

revsusan said...

Thomas, All Saints is firmly on record in supporting the IRS statutes as they currently stand regarding faith communities refraining from campaigning in partisan political races. We oppose changing those regulations and will continue to abide by our own decades-long prohibition of such advocacy here at All Saints.

That said, it is not "likely that All Saints violated the rules" ... All Saints did NOT violate the rules ... as I see at least one commenter has researched the original "offending" sermon to ascertain.

I'll try to get more info up on this as the day progresses ... we had many cameras/newsfolk in church today ... stay tuned and stay TIVO'd ... and check out the All Saints website for lots of "IRS Stuff" ... http://www.allsaints-pas.org

Ellie M said...

Oh, please. I went and had a good look at the sermon (available in its entirety at the church site) and it is BLATANTLY political. Do you people support the separation of church and state, or don't you? Think about it.

A southern Baptist minister was recently investigated by the IRS and pressured out of his parish by the congregation for preaching a pro-Bush "sermon." If All Saints "wins" their case, then people like him will also be free to preach politics from the pulpit. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. Do you really want that?

revsusan said...

Ellie, it's about drawing the line between partisan advocacy and preaching about political issues. Here's what the rector had to say about that:

"Faith in action is called politics. Spirituality without action is fruitless and social action without spirituality is heartless. We are boldly political without being partisan Having a partisan-free place to stand liberates the religious patriot to see clearly, speak courageously, and act daringly." -- The Rev. J. Edwin Bacon

Suzer said...

I read the sermon and can see why it raised a red flag at the IRS, but ultimately I don't think it overtly endorsed one candidate over the other. It was political, yes, but partisan -- I'm a little on the fence about that. I think the intent was clear from my liberal/moderate perspective, but it fell short of an actual "vote for so-and-so" statement.

If the IRS is going after All Saints for this sermon, I would also like to see the IRS equally hard at work here in Georgia, stopping the Southern Baptist pastors from handing out voter guides in their churches. My former office manager brought them to work and handed them out to all employees, telling us her pastor made these "Godly" choices and we should make them, too. The recommended politicians were, of course, all ultra-conservative Republicans.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

I can see why people have a hard time with this issue.

I don't want any church getting behind a candidate, let's say... I don't know... George Bush... and saying you must vote for him because he is the only "Holy" candidate.

I *DO* want churches getting involved in issues, even though unfortunately the churches that pack the largest crowds talk about issues and come down on the side of issues that I don't necessarily agree with.

That's because I can't separate the political issues from my religion, my ethics, my morals, or my being. I don't expect anyone else to either. Health care for all is a religious issue. It's also a political one. We should talk about that at church. We also should talk about that in politics.

Now it just so happens that when an incumbent is running they have a longer track record to talk about. I think that is why there is all this fuss. GW Bush had a horrible track record on the issues, and the IRS is confused that the sermon's critique of his horrid record on these issues looked like an implicit endorsement of the other candidate.

Just to take the argument to the extreme and absurd, if the sitting president were Adolph Hitler, we would have a moral, religious, and ethical imperative to fight to remove him from office. I doubt many people would argue with that. Under our legal system we do that through discussing issues. That is what happened in this sermon. It just so happens that the IRS hasn't figured that out yet.

j