Liberal church will decide soon whether to fight IRS summons
LOS ANGELES (AP) – A liberal church at the center of a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over a 2004 sermon will decide this week whether to fight an IRS summons.
The IRS is requesting a number of documents be produced by Sept. 29 and that the church’s rector, Rev. Ed Bacon, testify before an IRS agent on Oct. 11.
The congregation of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena discussed the matter during a church service Sunday.
The church could lose its tax-exempt status because of an anti-war sermon delivered two days before the 2004 election by its former rector, Rev. George F. Regas. Regas did not urge parishioners to support President Bush or Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., but was critical of the Iraq war and Bush’s tax cuts, Bacon said last November.
Parishioners Sunday gave Bacon a standing ovation after he described reasons why the church might choose to resist the summons.
Resisting would mean the IRS would have to decide whether to ask for a hearing before a judge, who could then rule on the legality of the summons.
If a hearing were held, the church would argue that the IRS summons is “an intrusion, an attack upon this church’s First Amendment rights to the exercise of freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” Bacon said.
Though no vote was taken Sunday, there appeared to be strong support to resist the summons, several congregants said.
The church’s governing body could still decide to comply with the summons in the hope that producing the documents and the testimony would resolve the dispute, said Robert Long, the church’s senior warden.
“I’ve been through the documents and I think it fully supports our position that we have not been in violation of the IRS regulations,” Long said.
All Saints has a long history of social activism dating back to World War II, when its rector spoke out against the internment of Japanese Americans. Regas, who headed the church for 28 years before retiring in 1995, was well-known for opposing the Vietnam War, championing female clergy and supporting gays and lesbians in the church.
A copy of Bacon’s sermon was set to be posted on the church’s Web site later Sunday.
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