In early November, Rector J. Edwin Bacon told parishioners at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., that the Internal Revenue Service was examining the church for a possible violation of its nonprofit status.
According to a letter from the IRS, the investigation is due to an antiwar sermon delivered by the church's former rector, George Regas, on the weekend before the 2004 presidential election. In the sermon, which Regas prefaced by saying that he didn't intend to tell anyone how to vote, Regas imagined a debate between Jesus and candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry, and rebuked President Bush for the war in Iraq.
The IRS has said that the sermon 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.
The church has hired lawyers and will defend its own case. In interviews, Bacon has pointed to All Saints Episcopal Church's self-identification as a "Peace Church," and said that Regas' sermon was upholding the core values of the church. Bacon said that the church has received an outpouring of support from free speech advocates.The investigation of All Saints is part of a yearlong investigation by the IRS into 100 nonprofit groups accused of promoting political candidates. The church is one of California's largest.
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