I probably don’t agree with much of what the pastors of the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., preach. I probably don’t agree with much of what the congregation believes.
But on this we agree: The Internal Revenue Service is attacking them unjustly because of the content of the messages expressed from the pulpit.
That is wrong. That is immoral. That is despicable. That is unconstitutional. That is deplorable. And it should be illegal.
The story begins on the eve of the 2004 presidential election. The church offered a guest sermon by the Rev. George F. Regas, the retired former rector.
Regas did not urge the congregation to support either presidential candidate or any other candidate on the ballot. Not that that should matter. I believe pastors and priests and rabbis have a duty to be engaged in the political culture of our country. Regas did, however, criticize the war in Iraq and President Bush’s tax cuts.
And for that, the IRS is challenging the tax-exempt status of the church.
There is no question about where this church stands on the issues. On its website, the church says the Republican-backed propositions on the California ballot would “alter the very fabric of our lives as a democracy by limiting the right to representation and the right to express a political point of view.”
Now, frankly, that’s some of the most hyperbolic political rhetoric I’ve ever heard from a church in my life. But so what?
If I ever stumbled into the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena by accident, thinking it might be a good place to worship the Lord, I’d probably walk out very disappointed after a few minutes of listening.
But when the federal government starts monitoring the content of what preachers say in the pulpit, we’re moving toward the kind of repression experienced in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Communist China. This is not the American tradition. This is not the way of the U.S. Constitution. This is the very antithesis of the First Amendment.
IRS regulations, if in conflict with the Constitution – and, I dare say, most are – need to be repealed.
I was a victim of just this kind of official harassment at the hands of the IRS during the Clinton administration. It is no more attractive to me when perpetrated by Republicans – or even by accident by an out-of-control bureaucracy.
It is no more justifiable. It is no more constitutional. It is no more moral. It is no more American when perpetrated by President Bush’s administration.
Does Bush really want to be remembered as a president who used the IRS as an attack dog against churches that got out of line?
Back in 1996 – when I ran a non-profit journalism institute, the Western Journalism Center, and sponsored investigative reporting into the many, almost countless, misdeeds of the Clinton administration – I, too, stood accused of playing politics during an election year.
I fought the IRS and won. But it was a costly victory.
Do we really want less political information disseminated, less political debate, less political speech during election years? Or do we want to foster more?
The IRS is out of line, again. Whoever is pulling the strings this time is as corrupt as Bill Clinton was in 1996. In America, politics is supposed to be a battle of ideas, not the exercise of raw, unchecked power.
This action by the IRS, and whoever is behind it, is despicable, revolting, reprehensible and criminal.
If the All Saints Episcopal Church is looking for an expert witness to support its case in a major lawsuit against the IRS and its other political enemies in the federal government, I hereby volunteer for duty.
And I enlist the support of all thoughtful Americans who appreciate the unique role of the church and the First Amendment in our country to support its efforts to battle this heinous injustice.