Pasadena Church: IRS Drops Anti-War Sermon Investigation
PASADENA, Sept. 23, 2007 -- The leader of a liberal church that came under scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service said it no longer faces the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status because of an anti-war sermon delivered days before the 2004 presidential election.
The Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr. told the congregants at All Saints Episcopal Church on Sunday that the IRS has closed a lengthy investigation into a speech by the church's former rector, Rev. George F. Regas.
In the sermon, Regas did not urge parishioners to support President Bush or Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., but was critical of the Iraq war and Bush's tax cuts.
Federal tax codes prohibit churches and other tax-exempt institutions from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
In a letter dated Sept. 10, the IRS said the church continues to qualify for tax-exempt status but that Regas' sermon amounted to a one-time intervention in the presidential race. The letter offered no specifics or explanation for either conclusion, but noted that the church did have appropriate policies in place to ensure that it complied with prohibitions on political activity.
Bacon said the letter's unclear conclusion could mean future investigation of the church and leaves a "chilling effect" on the freedom of clerics from all faiths to preach about core moral values and such issues as war and poverty.
The church has "no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process over two long years ago," Bacon said.
He demanded an apology and a clarification from the agency.
A message left with the IRS Sunday afternoon was not immediately returned. IRS spokesman Jesse Weller told the Los Angeles Times late Saturday that he could not comment on the case.
All Saints has also asked a top Treasury Department official to investigate what the church described as a series of procedural and substantive errors in the case, including allegedly inappropriate conversations about it between IRS and Justice Department officials.
Those conversations, documented in e-mails obtained by the church through Freedom of Information Act requests, appear to show that Justice Department officials were involved in the All Saints case before the IRS made any formal referral of it for possible prosecution, an attorney for the church said.
"In view of the fact that recent congressional inquiries have revealed extensive politicization of (the Department of Justice), my client is very concerned that the close coordination undertaken by the IRS allowed partisan political concerns to direct the course of the All Saints examination," attorney Marcus S. Owens wrote in a Sept. 21 letter requesting an investigation.
All Saints has a long history of social activism dating back to World War II, when its rector spoke out against the internment of Japanese Americans. Regas, who headed the church for 28 years before retiring in 1995, was well-known for opposing the Vietnam War, championing female clergy and supporting gays and lesbians in the church.
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