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The IRS scandal and liberal churches

The IRS scandal and liberal churches

As the IRS vs. Tea Party scandal unfolds, we remember that in 2006 All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, California was threatened by the IRS under a previous administration.

Ken Lane at Gawker writes:

Only 25% of the 300 scrutinized groups seeking non-profit status were reportedly affiliated with right-wing causes….

…IRS examinations of politically vocal non-profits is not new—the most recent outrage to make the national news was in 2006, when tax officials threatened and persecuted liberal churches during the presidency of George W. Bush.

The experience of both liberal and conservative churches in 2004 and 2006 show that bureaucrats have difficulty interpreting tax code prohibitions especially when the language is vague on what constitutes political engagement by charitable groups.

The IRS has yet to reveal the non-Tea Party non-profits investigated in 2012, but at least one other politically motivated wave of harassment was revealed in 2006, when tax officials went after a liberal church in Pasadena.

All Saints Episcopal Church was threatened with the loss of the church’s tax-exempt status because the congregation allegedly heard political speech from the pulpit. The church’s then-rector, the Reverend George F. Regas was accused of being anti-war in his sermons.

These sermons took place during the 2004 presidential campaign between George W. Bush and John Kerry. During the Bush Administration and many presidencies before it, actively agitating against one of Washington’s wars will get the IRS sniffing into your business—even when your stated business is not for profit.

The witch hunt of liberal churches happened under the leadership of IRS commissioner Mark Whitty Everson, a Republican appointed by George W. Bush in 2003. Another Bush appointee, Douglas Schulman, headed the IRS during the scrutiny of Tea Party groups seeking non-profit status in 2012. Schulman’s term ended on November 11, after the 2012 election.

So, in the midst of the current crisis, the question is “Where was the outrage then?”

During the 2006 scrutiny of liberal churches, it was a Democrat congressman who demanded investigations into the IRS practice of targeting non-profits with Democratic leanings:

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who unsuccessfully tried to launch a Government Accountability Office investigation into the IRS’ probes of churches nationwide last year, called the summons “a very disturbing escalation” of the agency’s scrutiny of All Saints.

“I don’t want religious organizations to become arms of campaigns,” he said. “But they should be able to talk about issues of war and peace without fear of losing tax-exempt status. If they can’t, they’ll have little to say from the pulpit.”


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Christopher Johnson

The outrage then was abundant and you know it. Or you would have known it if you read any conservative blogs. But as long as you’re playing that game, I’d like to know if All Saints has released a statement of solidarity with targeted conservative groups. Sauce for the goose, Andy.

Wendy Barrie

As a staff member at All Saints Pasadena at the time, I remember it well. George Regas was Rector Emeritus (Ed Bacon was and continues to be Rector)and the sermon in question was given on the eve of the election. The IRS made the novel and spurious charge that an anti-war sermon could be seen an implicit endorsement of a Democratic candidate.

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