Friday, September 22, 2006

IRS goes after political church

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:38 AM |  

Well, thank God (oops), well just say halleluiah (is that okay?), oh hell ( now that’s gotta be alright) it’s about time that authorities started cracking down on those pastors and their congregations that are getting political. We have separation of church and state in this country and it’s about time these fundamentalist right-wing pastors learned that you can’t preach politics from the pulpit. Right?

But what if it’s a liberal congregation that walks through the valley of the shadow of the government boot?

This news from the LA Times:
IRS seeks church's sermons

Stepping up its probe of allegedly improper campaigning by churches, the Internal Revenue Service on Friday ordered a liberal Pasadena, Calif., parish to turn over all the documents and e-mails it produced during the 2004 election year with references to political candidates.

All Saints, an Episcopal church, and its rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, have until Sept. 29 to present the sermons, newsletters, financial records, utility bills and electronic communications.

The IRS investigation was triggered by an anti-war sermon delivered by a guest speaker at the church shortly before the 2004 presidential election. Bacon was ordered to testify before IRS officials Oct. 11.

The tax code bars nonprofit organizations, including churches, from endorsing or campaigning against candidates in an election.

Facing the possible loss of his church's tax-exempt status, Bacon said he plans to inform his roughly 3,500 active congregants about the investigation during Sunday services. Then he plans to seek their advice on whether to comply or defy the request.

"There is a lot at stake here," Bacon said. "If the IRS prevails, it will have a chilling effect on the practice of religion in America."
Damn right there is. But isn’t this kind of action by the IRS exactly what the Left has been screaming for? Isn’t this the threat the Left keeps hurling at right-wing churches where pastors preach sermons on the evils of abortion or the dangers of same-sex marriage?

More importantly, isn’t this the kind of action that the Right has warned could happen if preaching against practices the church regards as sinful is treated as hate speech?

It’s ironic that this case involves a liberal congregation and the preaching of anti-war sermons, but in all seriousness, this is neither a Right nor a Left issue.

Separation of church and state is meant to protect religion from government, not government from religion. The first amendemnt has two clauses regarding freedom of religion -- one guaranteeing that government would not impose a religion, the other protecting the right to feely exercise one's religion.

The reason that churches are tax free is to protect them religion from coercion by government -- the effective imposition of a specific religin through a manipulated tax code. That system works unless people actually start to take their "free exercise" rights seriously and act on their religious beleifs. Now we have a much more complex question.

If the beliefs of a church are that war is wrong and therefore the Iraq War is wrong and the IRS clamps down on the church for preaching such, then isn’t the government essentially using the threat of the tax code to modify the church’s belief? And ditto for a congregation that preaches that homosexuality is a sin?

It’s an interesting question and one where, as this example illustrates, Right and Left have a common interest.