Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning


By Patricia Ward Biederman and Jason Felch
Times Staff Writers

November 7, 2005

The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

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."

As Bacon spoke, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a co-celebrant of Sunday's Requiem Eucharist, looked on.

"We are so careful at our church never to endorse a candidate," Bacon said in a later interview.

"One of the strongest sermons I've ever given was against President Clinton's fraying of the social safety net."

Telephone calls to IRS officials in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles were not returned.

On a day when churches throughout California took stands on both sides of Proposition 73, which would bar abortions for minors unless parents are notified, some at All Saints feared the politically active church had been singled out.

"I think obviously we were a bit shocked and dismayed," said Bob Long, senior warden for the church's oversight board. "We felt somewhat targeted."

Bacon said the church had retained the services of a Washington law firm with expertise in tax-exempt organizations.

And he told the congregation: "It's important for everyone to understand that the IRS concerns are not supported by the facts."

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."

The church declined the offer.

Long said Bacon "is fond of saying it's a sin not to vote, but has never told anyone how to vote. We don't do that. We preach to people how to vote their values, the biblical principles."

Regas, who was rector of All Saints from 1967 to 1995, said in an interview that he was surprised by the IRS action "and then I became suspicious, suspicious that they were going after a progressive church person."

Regas helped the current church leadership collect information for the IRS on his sermon and the church's policies on involvement in political campaigns.

Some congregants were upset that a sermon citing Jesus Christ's championing of peace and the poor was the occasion for an IRS probe.

"I'm appalled," said 70-year-old Anne Thompson of Altadena, a professional singer who also makes vestments for the church.

"In a government that leans so heavily on religious values, that they would pull a stunt like this, it makes me heartsick."

Joe Mirando, an engineer from Burbank, questioned whether the 3,500-member church would be under scrutiny if it were not known for its activism and its liberal stands on social issues.

"The question is, is it politically motivated?" he said. "That's the underlying feeling of everyone here. I don't have enough information to make a decision, but there's a suspicion."

Bacon revealed the IRS investigation at both morning services. Until his announcement, the mood of the congregation had been solemn because the services remembered, by name, those associated with the church who had died since last All Saints Day.

Regas' 2004 sermon imagined how Jesus would admonish Bush and Kerry if he debated them. Regas never urged parishioners to vote for one candidate over the other, but he did say that he believes Jesus would oppose the war in Iraq, and that Jesus would be saddened by Bush's positions on the use and testing of nuclear weapons.

In the sermon, Regas said, "President Bush has led us into war with Iraq as a response to terrorism. Yet I believe Jesus would say to Bush and Kerry: 'War is itself the most extreme form of terrorism. President Bush, you have not made dramatically clear what have been the human consequences of the war in Iraq.' "

Later, he had Jesus confront both Kerry and Bush: "I will tell you what I think of your war: The sin at the heart of this war against Iraq is your belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life. That an American child is more precious than an Iraqi baby. God loathes war."

If Jesus debated Bush and Kerry, Regas said, he would say to them, "Why is so little mentioned about the poor?''

In his own voice, Regas said: ''The religious right has drowned out everyone else. Now the faith of Jesus has come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war and pro-American…. I'm not pro-abortion, but pro-choice. There is something vicious and violent about coercing a woman to carry to term an unwanted child."

When you go into the voting booth, Regas told the congregation, "take with you all that you know about Jesus, the peacemaker. Take all that Jesus means to you. Then vote your deepest values."

Owens, the tax attorney, said he was surprised that the IRS is pursuing the case despite explicit statements by Regas that he was not trying to influence the congregation's vote.

"I doubt it's politically motivated," Owens said. ""I think it is more a case of senior management at IRS not paying attention to what the rules are."

According to Owens, six years ago the IRS used to send about 20 such letters to churches a year. That number has increased sharply because of the agency's recent delegation of audit authority to agents on the front lines, he said.

He knew of two other churches, both critical of government policies, that had received similar letters, Owens said.

It's unclear how often the IRS raises questions about the tax-exempt status of churches.

While such action is rare, the IRS has at least once revoked the charitable designation of a church.

Shortly before the 1992 presidential election, a church in Binghamton, N.Y., ran advertisements against Bill Clinton's candidacy, and the tax agency ruled that the congregation could not retain its tax-exempt status because it had intervened in an election.

Bacon said he thought the IRS would eventually drop its case against All Saints.

"It is a social action church, but not a politically partisan church," he said.,full.story

Ocean Breeze
Free Thinker
Wow....... just read about this on another site. More ways to CONTROL/INTIMIDATE the population and anything that resembles the free speech.

Neofascist malignancy???

If they go after a church........
This is completely outrageous.

There is no excuse for this type of intimidation, even if the church DID endorse a candidate.


The law needs to be changed.
Jo Canadian
Reverend Blair
Are thety going to be going Pat Robertson and the rest of the religious right?
They seem to have the attitude of "How dare any one say any nasty thing about Our Fearless leader. You're unpatriotic"

By Patricia Ward Biederman and Jason Felch
Times Staff Writers

November 7, 2005

The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.


About time. Churches should not have tax-exempt rights. Many religions are scams, but even the so called main line churches should not have tax-exempt rights. A medieval tradition that has no place in the modrn world. Time they paid their taxes. Kudos to the IRS.
Thye should have removed their tax-exempt right forthwith.

It would depend on the tax rate..if they had the usual business rate,they'd still be paying next to nothing.
I figured the left would love this.
Well if you are refering to people with a pinch of common sense, well than yes..your correct...its a good thing. Pay taxes like the rest of us.
People with a pinch of common sense would understand that churches are charities. They are vital in local community support, national support and international support.
Well I think you will find some dispute there if you follow these money trails :P personally I find it vulgar that someone would offer common human kindess ( something your born with) in hopes of capturing a invisable essence hanging around myself. Anyhos...a interesting article over at freethinkers...natch! I like to share...

September 28, 2005

The watchdog Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national association of freethinkers working to keep church and state separate, is protesting the announcement of an unprecedented change in policy by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to retroactively "reimburse" churches and religious groups for helping evacuees of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The policy, which went public this week, follows FEMA's irresponsible decision to prominently promote donations to Rev. Pat ("Take him out") Robertson's "Operation Blessing" at the FEMA website during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The controversial religious group was one of about 22 charities, nearly all of them religious, which FEMA promoted. FEMA, in some instances, simply listed the main offices of individual church denominations, not even bonafide relief charities.

Following is a statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, Foundation co-presidents, along with contact information to write/email letters of complaint:

The federal government, which is digging itself deeper and deeper into debt, has announced it will open its wallet retroactively to reimburse churches and religious entities for voluntary charity offered to hurricane victims and evacuees.

FEMA, a division of the richly-funded Department of Homeland Security, was scandalously asleep on its feet when natural disaster (an "act of God"?) struck the United States in September. FEMA's clueless and disgraced director, Michael Brown, who was forced to step down, testified before Congress yesterday that "I pray for these people every night."

FEMA, which initially used hurricane Katrina as an excuse to promote Pat Robertson's charity, is once more using a natural disaster as an opportunity to promote funding for "faith-based" groups. FEMA's messy plan to reimburse churches is financially and constitutionally a river of no return. Who can imagine, given FEMA's recent track record, that the result will be anything but massive tax-paid handouts to churches? Money is fungible. Any tax dollars given as "reimbursement" to churches can (and will) be used for anything--including preaching, proselytizing, or prayer.

Churches receive tax exemption with the understanding that they are engaging in charitable endeavors. Churches which helped evacuees or opened themselves as shelters were doing what churches always claim they are there for.

Churches are not accountable to the government as required by other tax-exempt groups. Non-church groups receiving tax exemption must file detailed annual 990 statements showing where the money has gone. The IRS automatically waives this requirement for all churches and church denominations. Imagine a church which voluntarily opened its doors, in some cases to their own congregation members, now charging the government--which does not tax its buildings--for rent!

While some churches and denominations are to be praised for publicly spurning FEMA's offer at this point, the temptation will be too great for most to withstand. The Salvation Army is clamoring to be "repaid." This church already is the major recipient of government contracts for shelters. It was on FEMA's list of charities and it continues to openly solicit donations from the public to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Isn't this double-billing carried to a new height?

There should be no payment or reimbursement where there was no contractual agreement. Retroactive reimbursement for voluntarily undertaken charity is no way to run a business, much less a government.

Imagine if the many volunteers who went to the Gulf Coast to help, taking time off out of the goodness of their hearts, now demanded that Uncle Sam pay them back wages for missed work, transportation costs, hotel bills, and out-of-pocket expenses! What honorable volunteer would consider such a scheme? Yet such a scenario parallels precisely what churches and their fundamentalist government allies have demanded.

Most disappointing, the American Red Cross openly lobbied FEMA to reimburse churches, contending that many cooperated with them. Yet Red Cross received permission from such churches; they didn't commandeer them. Millions of Americans sent money to the Red Cross (including the Freedom From Religion Foundation), as one of the few secular groups promoted by FEMA. Red Cross is free to turn over some of the vast sums it has collected to grant to hard-luck churches with which it has partnered. But Red Cross has no business urging the government to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state, to raid from the public till to benefit churches.

Or why don't these churches apply for grants from Operation Blessing, which made a windfall off of Hurricane Katrina, thanks to FEMA's bizarre endorsement? What about the other religious charities and church denominations FEMA directed Americans to donate to? Individual churches should be passing the plate to their denominational headquarters or these government-touted "faith-based" charities.

This unprecedented change in public policy will open the floodgates on future demands by religious groups and churches for "retroactive" reimbursement for charitable activities undertaken without government contract or public oversight.

If a church expects and accepts payment from the taxpayers, then it is no longer charitable.


Use some of the talking points above for a letter to the editor or to public representatives. Or contact FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security or the American Red Cross:

R. David Paulison
Acting Secretary
500 C St, SW
Washington DC 20172
Complaint line: 202/646-3661
Fax line: 202/646-3930

Secretary Michael Chertoff
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington DC 20528
Comment line: 202/282-8495

Marsha J. Evans
The American Red Cross National Headquarters
2025 E St NW
Washington DC 20006
Donation line (you may wish to complain if you donated)
It seems pretty clear that the IRS is targetting Churches based on the content of their meassage, rahter than on any perceived political advocacy in the general sense. No large Conservative Churches have been served --'cause we sure would have heard about it if one of those oppressed " God-fearing (Bush Worshipping) Bible-believing (homosexual-hating) congregations were targetted.

And recall how involved in electing Bush-Cheney in 2004 the Christian Taliban were:

Interestingly, there is no record of any particular Chrurch being threatened by the IRS.

The instruction sheet circulated by the Bush-Cheney campaign to religious volunteers lists 22 "duties" to be performed by specific dates. By July 31, for example, volunteers are to "send your Church Directory to your State Bush-Cheney '04 Headquarters or give [it] to a BC04 Field Rep" and "Talk to your Pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and Voter Registration Drive."

By Aug. 15, they are to "talk to your Church's seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush/Cheney '04" and "recruit 5 more people in your church to volunteer for the Bush Cheney campaign."

By Sept. 17, they are to host at least two campaign-related potluck dinners with church members, and in October they are to "finish calling all Pro-Bush members of your church," "finish distributing Voter Guides in your church" and place notices on church bulletin boards or in Sunday programs "about all Christian citizens needing to vote."

Whether or not Churches merit tax-exempt status is another issue.

The fact that the IRS is engaged in selective intimidation of organisations along partisan party lines is far more sinister.
Reverend Blair

About time. Churches should not have tax-exempt rights. Many religions are scams, but even the so called main line churches should not have tax-exempt rights. A medieval tradition that has no place in the modrn world. Time they paid their taxes. Kudos to the IRS.
Thye should have removed their tax-exempt right forthwith.

Exactly. Let them claim exempt status on the money spent on charity, just like the rest of us can, but they should pay corporate rates on all of the other money they collect. The churches won't like the prospect of having to open their books to the government, but tough titty.

I won't give kudos to the IRS on this one though. They are targeting the religious left for taking a political stance, but they are not targeting the religious right, a segment of the religious community that is far more involved in politics. This instance is nothing more than political harrassment via the IRS.
yeah, tax ALL churches, but do not try to mussle freedom of speech. I left the church when the cleric ranted against one union as being communist while exhaulting the raiding union as being good christians.

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