Monday, September 24, 2007

A Church in the Thick of It

After two years, the IRS has suddenly and mysteriously closed its investigation of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California. All Saints Church was notified of the IRS’ intention to conduct an audit and examination of its tax-exempt status in 2005, based on a single sermon given by Rector Emeritus, Rev. Dr. George Regas two days prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The sermon, entitled “If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush,” reportedly caused the IRS to challenge the Church’s tax-exempt status based on a charge of “election intervention.”

Last week, the Church received a letter from the IRS stating that the examination has been closed, and that, although the Church’s tax-exempt status remains unchallenged and an actual audit has never taken place, the sermon that instigated the IRS examination constitutes “intervention in the 2004 Presidential election.”

In a statement released yesterday, the Church’s Rector, the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon, Jr., expressed concern over the IRS’ inconclusive closing letter, and its implications for freedom of the Pulpit. “The IRS has failed to explain its conclusion regarding the single sermon at issue. Synagogues, mosques and churches across America have no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process over two long years ago. The impact of this letter leaves a chilling effect cast over the freedom of America’s pulpits to preach core moral values,” Rev. Bacon said.

All Saints is one of the largest progressive Episcopal churches in the nation, and has long been a center of controversy, with a peace ministry that dates back to World War II, when the Church protested the internment of Japanese-American citizens. It has been learned, according to the statement issued by All Saints Church yesterday, that certain IRS officials may have breached the Church’s confidentiality rights through conversations with high-level Department of Justice personnel, heightening the Church’s concerns that the investigation may have been influenced by partisan political considerations.

The Church has referred the case to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, seeking clarification on exactly which elements of the single guest sermon are in violation of IRS guidelines on political campaign intervention, as well as redress for the breaches in confidentiality, and a formal apology.

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