Debate centers on area church

first_imgPASADENA – An IRS investigation would not necessarily have been the Rev. Ed Bacon’s springboard of choice to national prominence for All Saints Episcopal Church. But now the rector and his wealthy, liberal 3,500-member congregation have enthusiastically taken center stage in the expanding debate: When does free speech cross the line from sermonizing to politicking? When or should the Internal Revenue Service be involved? The savvy pastor quickly recognized how the IRS inquiry into an anti-war sermon at the church could be used instead to promote its religious message of peace and love. “Yes, I absolutely relish this platform to talk about our core values,” Bacon said. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESurfer attacked by shark near Channel Islands calls rescue a ‘Christmas miracle’When church leaders announced from the altar Sept. 21 they would not comply with IRS summonses demanding church documents and Bacon would not testify at an IRS hearing on Oct. 11, it was covered by national television and print media. The extent of nationwide interest in the yearlong All Saints-versus-IRS saga has surprised him, Bacon said. He’s had more than 700 phone calls and about 1,000 e-mails, only 28 of them negative, he said, from across the political spectrum. Bacon said he doesn’t feel “used” by some right-wing religious groups who have taken up All Saints’ stand to push for a complete removal of the bright line between church and state, which he believes should stay. People across the country now are familiar with the 2004 anti-war guest sermon preached by former Rector George Regas – long posted on the church Web site – that triggered the initial request for church documents: Regas imagined what Jesus would say to then-presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry about the war in Iraq. Bacon calls it a “statement of opposition to Bush rather than an outright endorsement” of Kerry and within the church’s First Amendment rights. No one is sure how the sermon attracted IRS notice, although the church has filed a freedom of information request to find out. “I think what happened here is that All Saints came to \ attention through a complaint or media report,” said Marcus Owens, the church’s Washington, D.C.-based attorney. The All Saints complaint “went on to the conveyor belt, and they clearly were not expecting All Saints to push back,” Owens said. The IRS made some “very aggressive public statements” in 2004 after complaints about charities being used as surrogates for raising political campaign funds, Owens said, and may have targeted All Saints as a way of backing up its tough line on audits. The church at first complied with requests for documents in 2005, Bacon said, heard nothing for more than five months, then was advised by the attorneys to go public. They did, in the most public way possible: the Sunday that 1984 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu preached at All Saints. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, early joined the fray, questioning the investigation and asking the IRS for clarification of its rules for political engagement by tax-exempt institutions. The IRS has not yet responded to the rules clarification request, Schiff said, nor to the letter he wrote Sept. 21 asking the IRS to justify its investigation of All Saints. Schiff said the next move may be to get Congressional hearings on the issues. Democratic political consultant Fred Register, whose late father was a minister, said he is “very, very puzzled” about why the IRS picked on All Saints. The church’s anti-war message has been consistent through Democratic and Republican administrations, he said. (626) 578-6300. Ext. 4482160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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