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Church in IRS Probe Gets Moral Support

Rector says news of an investigation over a 2004 antiwar sermon at All Saints Episcopal has prompted backing from an array of groups.

November 14, 2005|Patricia Ward Biederman | Times Staff Writer

Rector J. Edwin Bacon told parishioners Sunday that All Saints Church had received "a surprising outpouring of solidarity and support" since he revealed that the liberal Pasadena church could lose its tax-exempt status because of an IRS probe.

In a sermon titled "The IRS Goes to Church," Bacon said support has come from Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, 1st Amendment scholars and heads of secular nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations.

All Saints, an Episcopal church, has also found support among Christians with views far more conservative than those of its parishioners: "An evangelical Christian radio show host told me during an interview this past Friday, 'Pastor, if they are coming for you today, they will be coming for us tomorrow,' " Bacon said.

Parishioners gave the sermon a standing ovation.

Last Sunday, the 57-year-old rector revealed that the Internal Revenue Service had launched its inquiry after former rector George Regas delivered an antiwar sermon on the eve of the 2004 presidential election.

The IRS contends that the sermon, which chided President Bush for the war in Iraq, might have violated the ban on "campaign intervention" by nonprofit organizations, including churches. The tax code bars nonprofits from endorsing or campaigning against candidates in an election. Bacon said the allegations were untrue. The church has hired attorneys and said it is vigorously defending its case.

"In many ways I am grateful that the IRS has come to church at All Saints because both people of faith and people who do not profess a belief are coming together at this moment in history to hold up something essential in a democracy -- the separation of church and state," Bacon said.

"What is at stake is that precious, holy freedom from intimidation when religious leaders enter that sacred place called a pulpit. The only voice a preacher needs to be heeding when he or she is in the pulpit is the voice of God's spirit speaking to the human conscience."

Bacon told the congregation that All Saints would "protest and resist any efforts of the government coming into the pulpits of our land with a call to reverse a 3,000-year-old prophetic vocation to speak the truth to power."

Bacon said All Saints was "boldly political without being partisan."

"Our nonpartisanship is a holy space," he said.

"Having a partisan-free place to stand liberates the religious patriot to see clearly, speak courageously and act daringly."

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