A church in California has refused to comply with an Internal Revenue Service request to turn over all the documents and e-mails it created during the 2004 election year containing references to political candidates. Last week, the 26-member vestry of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena voted unanimously to challenge the IRS on the matter in court. The refusal to cooperate forces the IRS to either drop the case, or to ask the Justice Department to take the church to court. The agency could also revoke the church’s tax exemption. The church is one of dozens of tax-exempt groups under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service for possible violations of laws against political activities. The church said it regarded an IRS investigation of an antiwar sermon delivered by the church’s former rector on the Sunday before the 2004 election as an attack on freedom of speech and religion. The agency has not said what part of the sermon the reverend delivered may have violated the law. In the sermon, the former rector, imagined Jesus chiding President Bush and Democratic opponent Senator John Kerry on topics including the war in Iraq, nuclear weapons, poverty and the increasing income gap. In July, the IRS warned 15,000 tax-exempt groups across the nation to stay neutral on political matters. IRS officials said then that investigations into charges of improper campaigning would be carried out under a new enforcement program, the Political Activity Compliance Initiative. Under it, the IRS will no longer wait for an annual tax return to be filed or for the tax year to end before investigating allegations of improper campaigning.
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