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News :: Arts & Culture : Government & Elections

IRS Investigates Church After Antiwar Sermon

IRS Reviews Church's Status

2004 Antiwar Sermon Sparked Look at Tax Exemption

By Alan Cooperman

Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, November 19, 2005; A03

The Internal Revenue Service is examining the tax-exempt status of a liberal church in Southern California because its former pastor delivered a fiery antiwar sermon that criticized President Bush by name on the Sunday before the 2004 presidential election.

But All Saints Church in Pasadena is more than just standing its ground. The 3,500-member Episcopal congregation has hired a heavy-hitting Washington law firm, unleashed a torrent of publicity and received support from religious groups across the political spectrum, from the National Council of Churches to the National Association of Evangelicals.

In effect, the church and its allies have turned the tables on the IRS, forcing the agency to defend itself against accusations of crossing the line into politics, essentially the same complaint the IRS originally brought against the church in June.

"I'm very interested to know whether the IRS is taking a look only at churches that are critical of the war in Iraq, or also at the churches that are supportive of the war and the president," said the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr., rector of All Saints. "I have no evidence that the investigation is politically motivated, but I do wonder whether it is."

In the 1980s and '90s, when the IRS investigated the ministries of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart, it was accused by conservatives of targeting the Christian right.

Though constrained by privacy laws from commenting directly on All Saints or naming other churches under investigation, IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson denied that tax authorities are now using audits to go after the religious left.

He cited a report in February by the Treasury Department's inspector general that said IRS examinations of tax-exempt organizations are marred by tardiness, a lack of clear guidance and inadequate resources -- but not political bias.

"The report was quite clear that the complaints that came in, and the exams that were launched, hit both sides of the aisle. They did not skew one way or the other in the political spectrum," Everson said. "There is absolutely no place for any politics in our consideration of these things."

The Pasadena church made the investigation public. On Nov. 7, Bacon put the IRS's letter of inquiry on the church's Web site, along with a news release. Within 24 hours, he said, he gave 13 media interviews decrying the tax probe as a "chilling" attack on freedom of speech and religion.

"We have been so careful to be sure we did not get involved in endorsing anybody" in elections, Bacon said. "Then for the IRS to look at a sermon and say 'We smell an implicit endorsement' -- that is a place where I will fight, my congregation will fight and, I think, the American people will fight."

Under federal law, religious groups and other nonprofit charitable organizations that qualify for tax exemptions under Section 501(c)3 of the tax code may not "intervene in . . . any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." If the IRS determines that a charity has intervened in an election, it can remove the group's tax exemption, though it has seldom done so.

Everson said that after the 2004 elections, the IRS received 170 allegations from the public of improper political activity by 501(c)3 organizations. He said a panel of three IRS career civil servants reviewed the complaints and launched inquiries into 132 organizations, including about 60 churches. More than half of the inquiries have been completed, thus far without penalties, he said.

"Most of what happens here is the exchange of correspondence that ends up with us saying to somebody, 'Hey, you should understand this specific thing, this doesn't quite line up with the law, so in the future please don't do that.' And then the organization agrees not to do it," Everson said.

All Saints Church, however, has refused to concede it did anything wrong. As a result, the IRS ratcheted up its inquiry to a full-scale audit this fall, according to the church's lawyer, Marcus S. Owens.

The sermon that drew the IRS's attention was delivered on Oct. 31, 2004, by the Rev. George F. Regas, All Saints' rector emeritus. It was an imaginary debate between Jesus on one side and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and President Bush on the other. At the outset, the retired pastor told his listeners that "I don't intend to tell you how to vote." Then he went on to describe Jesus as deeply saddened by the war in Iraq and poverty in the United States.

"Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine," he imagined Jesus telling Bush. Later in the sermon, he envisioned Jesus as saying: "Shame on all those conservative politicians in the nation's Congress and in state legislatures who have for years so proudly proclaimed their love for children when they were only fetuses -- but ignored their needs after they were born."

The morning after Regas spoke, an article in the Los Angeles Times called his sermon a "searing indictment of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq." On June 9, the IRS sent an initial letter to the church, citing the newspaper article.

Fighting back, the church hired Owens, a partner in the Washington firm Caplin and Drysdale who was director of the IRS division of tax-exempt organizations from 1990 to 2000. He said in an interview that the 60 inquiries launched by the IRS into churches after the 2004 election is "an extraordinary number," about three times the historical average.

"I don't think the All Saints case is evidence of the IRS doing the administration's dirty work. But I do think it's evidence that the IRS is undertaking church examinations on far less compelling facts, on far more borderline cases, than it has historically," Owens said.

Part of the problem, he said, is that neither IRS guidelines nor court cases have made it clear what line a tax-exempt organization cannot cross, short of an explicit call to vote for, or against, a particular candidate or party.

In addition, he said, the IRS has given mid-level officials the authority to decide whether there is "reasonable belief" that a church has violated the tax laws. That decision used to be reserved for regional commissioners, several rungs higher on the institutional ladder, he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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News :: Civil & Human Rights : Environment & Food

Watsonville Loses Flouride Appeal

Despite a community-approved referendum to keep flouride out of their water system, a state appeals court said that they need to flouridate. At the time the article was written, it was unknown if they were going to appeal the current ruling.

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News :: Media Criticism

Networking: Hollywood comes to home movies

Culture vampires try to suck you into their lair with technology.
CHICAGO, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Just a few years ago, Brian Olson recalls, he would head back to the office and spend weekends at the studio of the company where he works to assemble a polished home video that "friends and relatives actually wanted to see."

Today, Olson, who works for a software company near Denver, has networked his home computer and his digital camera, and he can edit and mix movies from the privacy of his study.

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News :: Media Organizations in Monterey Bay Area

The Web: 'Wild West' of the Internet

Vile corporatists force closure of Internet free speech paragon.

CHICAGO, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- The Wild West ethos that animated the Internet during its first decade of commercial popularity is being tamed through litigation, experts tell United Press International's The Web.

This week the controversial peer-to-peer file-sharing service Grokster Inc. announced a settlement with the music industry, and its Korean counterpart, Seoul-based Soribada, completely shuttered its service.

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News :: Media Criticism

Networking: Digital doctors' records

CHICAGO, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Old-fashioned medical claims processing -- doctors handwriting codes for procedures on hardcopy files -- is gradually being replaced by digital physicians networks, electronic archives that maintain all patients' medical histories, experts tell United Press International's Networking. By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Police State

Mainstream news article on MM protest

30 Oct 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Dueling demonstrations over a plan to create state border police drew nearly 1,000 people to the Capitol on Saturday, and about two dozen police officers, some on horseback, stood between the rival gatherings to maintain order.

Authorities reported three arrests during the two-hour standoff, which illustrated California's growing divide over how best to secure its border with Mexico.

A proposed ballot initiative by Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, to create a state immigration police force was the reason for the rallies, but the role that volunteer citizen patrols known as "Minutemen" play on the Mexico-U.S. border also prompted debate.

A San Diego-based group announced last month that it had taken border patrols into its own hands to stop illegal immigrants and drug smugglers form entering California.

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"We have a major problem on the border with the illegals," said Robin Gable, 50 of Sacramento, who was one of about 300 who came to hear speeches from politicians and others urging voters to sign ballot petitions. "I'm here to support the Minutemen and our border patrols. You have terrorists, there's drugs coming across. Something has to be done about it."

Not far away on the sidewalk stood Tomas Alejo, 30, of Watsonville, Calif., who was part of a counterprotest of about 700 people.

"Our people should be treated with dignity and respect," he said. "We don't believe that people should be dogged if they are from one side of the border or the other. We denounce what the Minutemen are all about."

Haynes said he hopes his initiative qualifies for the 2006 ballot. The border police force would be charged specifically with enforcing federal immigration laws.

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Peter Camejo, an independent vice presidential candidate in 2004, led the counter-protest. He said the effort to seal off the borders is wrong, and that those coming across the border are needed for the American economy.

© 2005 The Associated Press.

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News :: Media Criticism

Networking: R&D going global

CHICAGO, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- R&D in networking hardware and software is accelerating, as several new development projects have been announced this month in Bangalore and Pune, India, and at least one foreign firm has located operations in the United States, experts tell UPI's Networking.

Last week Cisco Systems, which first established operations in India in 1995, broke ground on a brand-new, 1 million-square-foot R&D facility in Bangalore, budgeting $50 million for the project and planning to hire 3,000 scientists, engineers and researchers. The technical teams will work on projects spanning the San Jose, Calif.-based company's entire networking technology portfolio. By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Peace & War

Sargeant's Death Brings Death Toll to 2,000

U.S. Forces official death toll is 2,000, as of today, October 25th.

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