Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Interesting op-ed in this morning's New York Times: Taxing an Unfriendly Church:
Shortly before the last election, a former rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., gave a fiery antipoverty and antiwar sermon. He did not endorse a presidential candidate, but he criticized President Bush's policies in Iraq and at home. Now the IRS has challenged the church's tax-exempt status. It's important to know just how the tax police have chosen this church - and other congregations - to pursue after an election that energized churchgoers of most denominations.
I.R.S. officials have said about 20 churches are being investigated for activities across the political spectrum that could jeopardize their tax status. The agency is barred by law from revealing which churches, but officials have said these targets were chosen by a team of civil servants, not political appointees, at the Treasury Department. The I.R.S. argues that freedom of religion does not grant freedom from taxes if churches engage in politics....
Church leaders have hired lawyers and refused to agree to a settlement that requires them to admit that the sermon was over the line drawn by the IRS. The Rev. J. Edwin Bacon, the rector of All Saints, told parishioners that the church would continue to resist the government's efforts. That sounds right. With the feverish courting of religious voters these days, the IRS does have the daunting task of separating politics from church policy. Still, it would seem to be hard to justify picking on a church that has a long record of opposition to wars waged by leaders from both parties.