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.
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