Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Times Revives Myth of Church Picked on Merely Because of Antiwar Sermon

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:22 am

The L.A. Times this morning revives the fable of “The Church that Might Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status Because of An Antiwar Sermon.” The article is titled Pasadena Church May Fight IRS Summons, and bears a deck headline that misleadingly states: “All Saints’ rector seeks legal and lay opinion on response to probe over an antiwar sermon.”

As that headline suggests, the editors try to make it sound as though the church’s tax-exempt status is being questioned simply because of a little old antiwar sermon:

All Saints came under IRS scrutiny shortly after Regas, the church’s former rector, delivered a sermon that depicted Jesus in a mock debate with then-presidential candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry. The sermon did not endorse either candidate.

Regas’ suggestion that Jesus would have told Bush his preemptive war strategy in Iraq “has led to disaster” prompted a letter from the IRS in June 2005 stating that “a reasonable belief exists that you may not be a tax-exempt church.”

Horse hockey. There was much more to the sermon than a little antiwar sentiment — and the L.A. Times knows it.

As I laid out in great detail in this post from November of last year, the rector made a number of anti-Bush points in his sermon:

  • Jesus hates war.
  • Jesus specifically hates the Iraq war. He thinks it is terrorism, and that Bush does not care about Iraqi children the way he cares about Americans.
  • Jesus dislikes tax cuts.
  • Jesus does not like Bush’s nuclear weapons policies.
  • Jesus wants women to be able to abort their children if they want to. (I’m putting two and two together here; the rector said: ‘’The religious right has drowned out everyone else. Now the faith of Jesus has come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war and pro-American…. I’m not pro-abortion, but pro-choice. There is something vicious and violent about coercing a woman to carry to term an unwanted child.” Since Jesus is not “vicious and violent,” I take it that Jesus is pro-choice.)

How do I know all this? I read it in the L.A. Times last November. Granted, I had to read the November story all the way to Page A14, as the pertinent details were buried on the back pages. But they were there, and they were damning.

In my earlier post, I summed up the rector’s conclusion in this way:

I’m not saying to vote for John Kerry. I’m just saying that the Iraq war, tax cuts, abortion restrictions, and nuclear testing make baby Jesus cry. If you want baby Jesus to cry, then by all means vote for whichever candidate supports these anti-Jesus policies. But if you are asking “What Would Jesus Do?” — well, He would pull the lever for the peacemaker. As between Kerry and Bush, I can’t tell you who that is — but I can say this: it sure as Hell ain’t Bush.

Asked after the election whether he regretted the sermon, the rector said: “No regrets. I only wish I had preached it with greater intensity.” See, because Bush won . . . and the whole point was to get Kerry elected.

But today the paper makes the offending sermon sound like a nice nonpartisan imaginary debate that happened to have an antiwar component. And isn’t it natural for a man of God to be antiwar? When in fact, the rector was pounding the lectern for John Kerry, even as the church demanded tax-exempt status.

At least the previous article contained the facts; they were just buried on the back pages. Today, the relevant facts have disappeared. The editors apparently figure our memories are short, and they can snow us.

I’m here to try to prevent that. And the few hundred of you who read this post will learn the true facts — leaving only the tens or hundreds of thousands who read the story in today’s L.A. Times without reading my blog, and who will consequently be misled by the bias and distortion in this article.

47 Responses to “L.A. Times Revives Myth of Church Picked on Merely Because of Antiwar Sermon”

  1. How does that quote go? You know you’ve made God in your image when He disapproves of the exact same things you do?

    OHNOES (7f2571)

  2. Oh, and the LA Times spin doctoring? Par for the course.

    OHNOES (7f2571)

  3. I’m a little befuddled. Ameican churches have long expressed theological positions on political questions. I remember sitting in a pew in an ancient church in Connecticut were once the minister preached that New England should separate from the federal government – over the War of 1812.

    Certainly, making it open ended could mean abuse of tax-exempt status but a church that is primarily a church should feel free to comment on political affairs.

    Perhaps you folks could offer some insight into the current law.


    whitehall (aaa9ff)

  4. More from the Semell A Times the west coasts versiion of the New York Times more of the suial hogwash from this leftists rag

    krazy kagu (c6ad08)

  5. In a challenge to the ethics of conservative Ohio religious leaders and the fairness of the Internal Revenue Service, a group of 56 clergy members contends that two churches have gone too far in supporting a Republican candidate for governor.
    Two complaints filed with the tax agency say that the large Columbus area churches, active in President Bush’s narrow Ohio win in 2004, violated their tax-exempt status by pushing the candidacy of J. Kenneth Blackwell, who is the secretary of state and the favored candidate of Ohio’s religious right.

    The clergy members said the churches improperly held political activities and allowed Republican organizations to use their facilities.

    The goal of the challenge is “for these churches to stop acting like electioneering organizations,” said the Rev. Eric Williams, pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ. “I don’t want to harm or demonize these churches. I want these churches to act legally.”

    When three months passed without public evidence that the IRS had acted on a January complaint, the clergy members filed a second document, expanding the allegations”

    Seth Edenbaum (ffbd0d)

  6. When organized religion pokes their noses into the secular world, they SHOULD lose their tax-exempt status. The reason they don’t pay taxes in the first place causes me consternation, but at the least they should abide by the constraints that gives them that benefit. And that goes for churches that stump for any cause: anti-abortion, pro-choice, Republicans, Democrats, war, peace, anything that relates to the political arena.

    mmm...lemonheads (a9d53b)

  7. I always believe everything I read in the LA TIMES
    I also believe every word in the Bible

    Howard Veit (28df94)

  8. IRS rules for the 501 organizations are available on the web. Find them, read them.
    Compliance is easy but so is violation. Left wing, not God’s, churches have violated the law for years. Well, at least the left wing churches that exist solely to enrich the founders of the church. Been searching for years to find out what church Je$$ie Jack$on preaches at, no luck.

    Scrapiron (9f37aa)

  9. i support taxing the churches too.
    i would also support a politically evenhanded application of the law. the noteworthy element in the article was that the irs went after an anti-war church, while at the same time it does nothing about churches which are into politics up to their eyeballs, but friendlier to this administration. why are robertson, falwell, dobson et. al. still tax-exempt?
    for that matter, why is scientology tax-exempt? why is the government giving money to bizarre freaks such as the moonies so that they can promote “abstinence”? it’s enough to make a guy reluctant to pay his taxes!

    assistant devil's advocate (c6012c)

  10. There is something vicious and violent about coercing a woman to carry to term an unwanted child

    Interesting. It seems to me that killing an innocent child (his term) merely because she does not want it (his reason) would reasonably qualify as a vicious and violent act.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  11. i support taxing the churches too.

    You mean your support extra taxation of church members who provide all of the financial support for the church.

    Pablo (efa871)

  12. Patty, in the weird world of exempt org law, many of the claims you cite don’t constitute forbidden activity (“Jesus hates tax cuts,” for example, or “Jesus is pro-choice.”).

    The only thing that does is the hypo debate, and that only because Kerry womped Bush just like he did in reality.

    jpe (182338)

  13. scrapiron, I’m surprised that you both a) cite to IRS guidelines while b) completely misunderstanding them.

    Impressive in its own way.

    By the by, Patty, your point about the misleading headline is a good one.

    jpe (182338)

  14. “The only thing that does is the hypo debate, and that only because Kerry womped Bush just like he did in reality.”

    In which alternate universe did this happen in?

    sharon (03e82c)

  15. So let me understand what you mean by taxing churches.

    Every week, I provide money to my local church. This is called a donation. In order to have that money to donate, I have a place of employment. I am allowed to keep what money the government does not tax and spend it as I choose.

    My local church has no other means of revenue other than donations.

    So … you are saying that my local church should pay income taxes based upon the revenue that it has. So, now in order for my local church to fund the activities that I am donating to, I have to increase my giving by the amount that we would be taxed.

    Why should I be taxed twice on the same income? Do you really understand what you are saying when you say that churches should be taxed?

    At the same time, I have always felt that a church that only worries about it’s tax exempt status instead of preaching/teaching God’s word is trying to server 2 masters.

    Loverher (be586c)

  16. A church is a corporation. Absent the special exemption it is granted because it is supposed to be providing public goods (that’s the theory), it would be taxed like any other corporation.

    A church that spent a substantial amount of its resources on politics would be just like a PAC and treated accordingly.

    jpe (182338)

  17. Loverher –

    I see a couple possible fallacies in your position.

    1) The money you donate to the church, assuming it does indeed qualify, is NOT taxed for you as you can claim it as a deduction on 1040, and

    2) One can also give one’s money to an enterprise, say a fortune teller, and that enterprise must pay taxes on the money on which you already paid taxes.

    There is also a third fallacy of a different sort. You stated that the church had only donations as its income. Many churches have assets, sometimes huge assets. They earn interest income and investment income. In some cases, the church solicits donations to enter and look at certain historical or art objects, though they are really more entrance fees than true donations.

    jim (a9ab88)

  18. I guess our church could pay taxes, at a %15 rate, give or take. Then we would not be able to give away the %17 of our annual budget like we do. That would result in more people with more needs locally, nationally and internationally which means taxes go up. When our church freely gives away this income, it all goes to help others. When I pay my taxes personally, most of it goes to pay paper pushers and very little goes to care for others. The best reason for our tax exempt status- it is a much more efficient system. And, because it is voluntary ( unlike taxes) it is true compassion , not mandated compassion.
    I would have less problem with this whole arguement if the standards were applied universally. I recall many pictures of Clinton, Gore, Kerry , Jackson (not a real Rev), Sharpton (another not real Rev) and many others standing IN CHURCH PULPITS, arm in arm with Pastors. Would they support yanking the status of all the churches they campaigned in? I remember the hypocracy of an uproar of Bush speaking in 1 church, but the Dems have done it regularly with no consequence.

    Corinthian (e7f898)

  19. Here’s a quote from a recent LAT article, details at the link:

    Speaking as a citizen and not for the church, [CardinalRogerMahony] told a nearly full cathedral, “on Nov. 7, I’m not voting for anybody for Congress who is not supporting the [immigration_”reform” legislation] that we need.”

    Isn’t this even more blatant than Regas’ sermon? Did Mahonys disclaim his sermon, or did the LAT just add that in? Does that disclaimer save him? Since the IRS makes money off IllegalAliens and since the Bush administration supports IllegalImmigration, will they do anything about this?

    CardinalRogerMahonyInfo (dfdb47)

  20. I would have less problem with this whole arguement if the standards were applied universally.

    You just don’t understand the standards, corinthians.

    jpe (182338)

  21. Shorter Patterico: The fact that a lefty church was targetted for enforcement against what righty churches do regularly in no way implies differential enforcement of the law.

    [Shorter Kimmitt: I have entirely missed Patterico’s point about media bias. — P]

    Kimmitt (80218d)

  22. Since the good reverend who supports abortion doesn’t believe in tax cuts anyway, and since his speech is blatantly political in nature and hence potentially runs fowl of IRS regulations as a tax exempt entity, shouldn’t he lead the way and voluntarily step forward to say his church should be taxed to the gills?

    I mean, that would only be fair.

    And this is off topic, but Justin, you should see this. This is intellectual property law applied the way it should be applied. In Belgium, Google is being fined 1M euros a day for stealing and republishing newspaper articles without paying for them.

    “In De Morgen, director of the Flemish Daily Press Alex Fordyn complained that often the fact that journalists and publishers have to be paid for their research is forgotten by those who advocate news should be free for everyone.”

    And therin lies the crux of the debate in a nutshell. You believe, of course, that you have the right to take it and use it however you will without compensating the author(s). I don’t and think you should be imprisoned for doing so if you do.

    Christoph (9824e6)

  23. A church is a corporation. Absent the special exemption it is granted because it is supposed to be providing public goods (that’s the theory), it would be taxed like any other corporation.

    It’s a 501(c)3 corporation. It would be taxed like any other 501(c)3 corporation, which is not at all.

    Pablo (efa871)

  24. Absent the 501 exemption, Pabs, it’s taxed like any other corp.

    jpe (182338)

  25. 501(c)3 isn’t an exemption. It’s the type of corporation (named after the section of the tax code that it is formed under, as most Corp types are), which is a tax exempt, not-for-profit charitable corporation.

    501(c)3’s are not taxed. If you’re trying to say that if not for being tax exempt they’d be taxed, I guess that’s right. But it’s also like saying that if not for all the water in them, oceans would be dry.

    Pablo (efa871)

  26. Am I correctly understanding that this preacher says Jesus hates tax cuts and yet is complaining that someone wants to tax his church? It would seem to me that he should have the courage of his convictions and voluntarily take church funds and donate them to the federal government at the same rate as if the church were paying taxes.

    Locomotive Breath (bd72af)

  27. Not so much. Charities are state entities formed under state corporate laws.

    So while an ocean that loses its water isn’t an ocean, a corp that loses its 501c status is still a corporation – it doesn’t automatically *poof* out of existence; it just has to start paying taxes.

    jpe (182338)

  28. I’m looking forward to the day when the IRS begins to investigate the political proselytyzing done in American mosques.

    But that will never happen.

    Desert Rat (d8da01)

  29. Pablo, JPE’s right. IRC 501(c)(3) is a tax exemption that corporations either do or do not meet. It is not a statute under which corporations are created in the first place. Federally chartered banks and a few other legal entities are created under federal law, but they’re the exception, not the rule. The overwhelming majority of corporations, charities included, are creatures of state, not federal law.

    Xrlq (562997)

  30. At this point the request being made to this church is merely to cooperate in the discovery portion of this investigation. Cooperating fully and honestly by providing the requested information is an opportunity for the church to show that it has not violated the tax code. To do otherwise potentially subjects them to the same consequences as Martha Stewart and Scooter Libby. It isn’t the “crime” but the ill advised coverup that may be the church’s undoing.

    wamwam2 (08d2fb)

  31. It is not a statute under which corporations are created in the first place.

    That is correct. But it is an organizational designation under the tax code, which is statutory. And you first need to be an NFP in the state you’re incorporated in. (Chapter 617 under FL law) So you have to be an NFP in your state to also become a 501(c)3. It is an exemption: tax exemption.


    So while an ocean that loses its water isn’t an ocean, a corp that loses its 501c status is still a corporation – it doesn’t automatically *poof* out of existence; it just has to start paying taxes.

    You ever been to Groom Lake? El Mirage? Ever seen a for profit corporation without any sort of product?

    Pablo (08e1e8)

  32. All kinds of not for profits (nfp’s) veer on for profit status. Most notably, I suppose, would be museums and credit counseling services. So it’s a mistake to assume that nfp’s don’t have products and services.

    It’s true that many grantor or wholly charitable nfp’s (those without related or program revenue) probably wouldn’t be able to survive the loss of their exemption, but that just means it’s all the more important for those nfp’s to be cautious when it comes to activity that endangers their exempt status.

    You’re right that in, say, FL, one files as an nfp. (that’s a lame way to concede that one doesn’t register as a 501c, but whatever) I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, though. The stripping of 501c status is entirely independent of whatever consequences there may be at the level of state law. It might continue to operate, or be dissolved, or be able to reincorporate, whatever the state allows.

    jpe (b6f329)

  33. Do away with tax exempt status. Then all those mooks such as churches, foundations, charities, etc wouldn’t be in favor of raising taxes.

    Screw’em. Lift everyone’s tax exemption.

    Patch (39808b)

  34. Churches and Tax Exemption…

    It’s the very vagueness of the Treasury Regs that should keep churches far from the line of the permissible and impermissible. Religions, however, concern themselves with precisely that which goes beyond the State…

    Policy Forum Blog (59ce3a)

  35. It’s clear that the sermon described here expressed opposition to a political candidate. But I wonder whether such sermons (including sermons that would be negative toward Democrats or positve toward Republicans) are commonplace or whether this one church got singled out. There are so many churches in the USA that I can’t believe this is the only one where the preacher made it clear who he was or wasn’t voting for.

    Joshua (efbdb8)

  36. If we tax churches, then would you also tax private universities? Harvard would be a plum and they certainly indulge in political activities.

    Besides, churches pre-date the state. Corporations are purely creations of the state.

    whitehall (495cc8)

  37. whitehall: try to read the rules before talking about them. You’d be amazed what this whole “reading” thing can do for you.

    Joshua: you’ve cut to the quick of why people gripe about the restrictions on nfp’s. It’s so vague that any action seems, and probably is, arbitrary.

    jpe (b6f329)

  38. jpe, not all NFP’s are 501(c)3’s. Churches are. But a 501(c)4 is an NFP and can engage in politics. A church would not be one.

    (that’s a lame way to concede that one doesn’t register as a 501c, but whatever)

    But one does register their NFP as a 501(c)3, 4, whatever. It is how the Federal government views the entity.

    Joshua: you’ve cut to the quick of why people gripe about the restrictions on nfp’s. It’s so vague that any action seems, and probably is, arbitrary.

    Is it any more arbitrary than any other law enforcement? They never catch everyone. Does the IRS troll for this sort of stuff, or are investiagtions based on complaints? From the piece:

    Some All Saints defenders have called the IRS probe a case of selective prosecution. But conservative congregations, as well as liberal ones, have been investigated across the country by the agency over the years.

    One church in upstate New York lost its tax-exempt status in 1995 after running a full-page ad in USA Today in 1992 saying that it would be “a sin to vote for [Bill] Clinton.”

    Pablo (08e1e8)

  39. jpe-
    I do understand the rules very well. I think they are ignored when political preaching is in liberal churches but everyone gets upset when it is in a conservative church.
    I don’t think we should be taxed at all for many reasons too numerous for this discussion but primarily because there are many non profits that are very political and they retatin their status. I would have no problem with both sides being allowed to preach “politics” in as much as politics are simple public morals and morals are religious in nature.

    Corinthian (e7f898)

  40. NB- I accept and agree with Patterico’s comments on media bias. That said:

    I lean to the view that you want to be very careful when you’re going in and parsing people’s sermons. Even in an egregious case such as this.

    (I see placing ads, in the last few months run-up to an election as much worse; that IS engaging in political activism outside the Church.).

    Thanks to Patterico, we know how ridiculous this pastor’s comments were.

    Well, anyone who could sit through a sermon like that without leaving the parish afterwards is not going to be a Bush voter anyway.

    I had much the same experience. Our new priest railed against ‘right-wing’ politicians and spoke out for Social Justice, and distributed pamphlets extolling leftist candidates. I kept a polite expression on my face, went home and never darkened the door again. Sad in a way, because my family had gone there for many years.

    Over the next year, a neighboring parish gained about 110 families, 80 of which came from the parish headed by that great leftist priest.

    Christians (and other people of faith) in North America aren’t sheep. We’re smart enough to know a hawk from a handsaw.

    I see the benefits of scrutinizing sermons for political bias as slim to none. And wrong, to boot. The constitution doesn’t say a thing about ‘separation of church and state’ but it darn well does say something about not having an Established religion. And I think when you’re parsing people’s sermons, you’re getting frightfully close to that.

    Just my views. Apologies if they drift a little from the topic of media bias which Patterico is quite right on.


    Holmwood (76cebf)

  41. Dont get hard on all religion after all jesus was a conservative

    krazy kagu (557722)

  42. Give me a break!

    Accepted fact: IRS is an oppressive / repressive organization – it doesn’t matter if the controling party is Democrat or Republican. Any objections? – overruled!

    My libetarian opinion:
    Churches are Not For Profit (usualy). Nothing should be taxed but income from commercial ventures (property taxes also) – Nursing Homes and Retirement Homes excepted.

    Political speaches from the pulpit by politicians (and preachers) are tacky, but they only happen during the silly season, so what the hey!

    Many great changes in the life of America have come from her churches; any suppression of that is religious persecution. If an idea is valid, it will take wings and fly; if not, the congreation will vote with their feet and withholding of pledges. The idea will die from it’s own lack of truth.

    “We have met the enemy and he is us” – Pogo
    God save us from ourselves!

    Sorry about any bad spelling – it’s past my seasoned citizen bedtime.

    Lurker1934 (71fa8a)

  43. Boo -F***ing-Hoo for All Saints. They want to speak truth to power – but don’t take away THEIR preferential corporate tax treatment. They can scream and stomp about materialism and those “republicans” = but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to stop in mid sermon, lead the congregation outside and chain the doors shut. “We cannot in good conscience continue to use the building that our racist, sexist, homophobic forefathers built. It will be sold and the money given to the homeless. We shall now meet in a parking lot for a short sermon and them fan out and serve the least of our brothers every sunday.” ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    “Chilling effect?” Too late – that church is agitated because it is being threatened at it’s heart – it’s MONEY.

    Besides, that church wants to spend more time agitating for change to stop the killing in Darfur by sending troops there , right!? or to condemn the practice of arab Muslims in africa when they practice SLAVERY, today! Opps! cannot do that! it would distract from the message of “BUSH IS THE ANTI_CHRIST! All Saints, no sense.

    Californio (dd4328)

  44. […] Cathy Seipp has more on that church that the L.A. Times claims was targeted for a simple anti-war sermon. I laid this out in two previous posts (here and here), but Cathy — reminding us of a piece she had previously written about the sermon — makes it even more clear that the sermon was flagrantly anti-Bush: Although Regas called his sermon “If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush,” he didn’t imagine Jesus sitting there awkwardly on a third stool, like Ross Perot, but as a presence directly criticizing only Bush, never Kerry. . . . […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Cathy Seipp on the L.A. Times Myth of the Church Supposedly Investigated for An Anti-War Sermon (421107)

  45. lodine…


    lodine (dda2f8)

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