Those of us who sit on the Left side of the aisle (so to speak) of our local churches have long railed against the Religious Reich and the increasing ties between politics and religiosity (not necessarily religion). Here in California, where Catholic churches and other conservative parishes called on their parishioners to vote for a proposition that would require parental notification of a minor seeking an abortion, there have been discussions about what crossed the fine line that would jeopardize a church’s tax exempt status.
Well, thanks to the IRS, it’s been clarified: say Word One against the Iraq “war”, and get ready to be audited.
On October 31, 2004, a few days before the presidential election, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena CA hosted their former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, to deliver the sermon that day.
From the Los Angeles Times:
In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991’s Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that “good people of profound faith” could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.
But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, “Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster.”
On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that “a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church … ” The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.
The letter went on to say that “our concerns are based on a Nov. 1, 2004, newspaper article in the Los Angeles Times and a sermon presented at the All Saints Church discussed in the article.”
The IRS cited The Times story’s description of the sermon as a “searing indictment of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq” and noted that the sermon described “tax cuts as inimical to the values of Jesus.”
Okay, so let me get this straight — you can advocate the death of heads of state you disagree with, you can publicly pray for Supreme Court “vacancies” (meaning most of the time deaths in office), you can discriminate in employment on the basis of “religious expression”, but speak out against the Debacle in the Desert and you’re facing loss of tax-exempt status.
Further along in the article:
After the initial inquiry, the church provided the IRS with a copy of all literature given out before the election and copies of its policies, Bacon said.
But the IRS recently informed the church that it was not satisfied by those materials, and would proceed with a formal examination. Soon after that, church officials decided to inform the congregation about the dispute.
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.”
Owens said that an IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting.
“They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election.”
Okay, I’m pissed — righteously so, I believe. Where are the audits of the Catholic bishops who say that Catholics cannot vote for pro-choice candidates? Where are the letters to the Religious Reich churches who discreetly lay “slate cards” in the entryways to their mega-churches? I’m about ready to sit down and write a check to All Saints Pasadena to help cover their legal fees, money that could be used to actually serve the people of Pasadena.
Here endeth the rant…