Good news (sort of) for All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA. From the LA Times:
The Internal Revenue Service has told All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena California that it has ended its lengthy investigation into a 2004 antiwar sermon and can keep its nonprofit status.
But the agency wrote in its letter to All Saints Episcopal Church that officials still considered the sermon to have been illegal, prompting the church to seek clarification, a corrected record and an apology from the IRS, the church’s rector told standing-room-only crowds of parishioners at Sunday’s services.
The church also has asked the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, to investigate allegations that officials from the Justice Department had become involved in the matter, raising concerns that the investigation was politically motivated.
“To be sure, we are pleased that the IRS exam is over,” the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr. said in his 9 a.m. sermon, which was interrupted several times by applause. “However, the main issue of protecting the freedom of this church and other religious communities to worship according to the dictates of their conscience and core values is far from accomplished.”
Bacon predicted that the vague, mixed message from the IRS after its nearly two-year investigation of the All Saints case would have a continued “chilling effect” on the freedom of clerics from all faiths to preach about moral values and significant social issues such as war and poverty.
Although the church no longer faces the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status, All Saints has “no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process,” the rector said. He said the church would continue its struggle with the IRS, which he said so far had cost the 3,500-member congregation about $200,000.
Two days before the 2004 presidential election guest preacher George F. Regas imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with presidential candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry. Regas did not endorse either candidate, but he criticized the war in Iraq and said that Jesus would have told Bush that his preemptive war strategy in Iraq “has led to disaster.”
Well, that was enough for the IRS.
A letter from the IRS arrived in June 2005 stating that the church’s tax-exempt status was in jeopardy. In its latest letter to All Saints, dated Sept. 10, the IRS said the church continues to qualify for tax-exempt status, but said that Regas’ sermon did amount to intervention in the 2004 presidential race. The letter offered no details or explanation for either conclusion.
Also unanswered from 2004: How come a progressive church gets hassled and set back $200,000 when at the same time… Well, here’s Dana Milbank reflecting on Karl Rove’s well-documented work during the 2004 campaign:
I don’t think we can overstate this mobilization of the individual churches. Never happened before. Vast sort of untapped source of political energy in this country. The evangelicals didn’t just come on board for him: They were campaigning; they were at the events; they were the poll volunteers; they were making the phone banks, the phone calls. You know, that’s how you win elections. It was good old grassroots, door-knocking politics, but they tapped this group and organized it in a way that just had never been done to that extent before.
Religious conservatives, if they wanted to get into politics, [used to get] involved with Ralph Reed and his Christian Coalition. No more. You’re doing it right through your church. The Christian Coalition had no important effect on this election at all. It was all about your local Christian church. That turned out to be the rallying point.
Uh huh. And the IRS goes after whom? Can anyone else stand the smell around here?
The Carpetbagger Report makes the case that the difference in treatment was not a co-winkiedink.