The Regime vs All Saints Church
Posted on revcom.us, November 11, 2005
The U.S. government is making a move to silence a prominent L.A.-area church with a history of supporting progressive causes. This summer All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena got a letter from the IRS threatening to take away its tax-exempt status. The letter doesn't even try to hide the political nature of the attack. It points to a sermon by former rector George Regas "given on October 31, 2004 to a congregation of 3500, delivered a searing indictment of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, criticism of the drive to develop more nuclear weapons, and described tax cuts as inimical [opposed] to the values of Jesus."
Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said the IRS move against All Saints looked like "a political witch hunt." He is right.
Rector Edwin Bacon gave the church's response: "We take pride in our long history of active involvement in the community and in our steadfast and theologically-based commitment to alleviate poverty and promote peace, equality and social justice. From this commitment, All Saints Church cannot and will not waiver."
All Saints Church is a highly visible target. During the Vietnam War, they founded the Peace Operations Center. In the 1980s, they were a sanctuary for Central American refugees who were being regularly deported by the U.S. into the hands of death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Rev. George Regas was part of that history. After his retirement as rector in 1995, he set up the Regas Institute. He told Revolution that at the Institute he "studied the religious right and their involvement in political processes." He added that "I've also done a lot of work on interfaith peace work, having conferences with Jews and Muslims and Christians and Buddhists and Hindus on the issue of peace." After 9/11 and the U.S. war on Afghanistan, he founded Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, declaring, "Religious communities must stop blessing war." In March 2003 he was arrested in a protest against the looming U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Reading his sermon from last October, it's easy to see why the government was so stung by his words. From his own, religious perspective, he spoke in a sweeping way of the rule of profit, the crime of poverty, a woman's right to choose, and the unjust, immoral war on Iraq. One example:
"There is something vicious and violent about coercing a woman to carry to term an unwanted child. To force the unwanted on the unwilling, to use a woman's body against her will and choice, is morally repugnant." (The sermon is available at www.allsaints-pas.org )
Government regulations for churches and other nonprofit groups prohibit campaigning for a specific candidate. When the church got the IRS letter in June, they had their lawyer send a copy of the sermon, which began with the words, "I don't intend to tell you how to vote." They sent them copies of all literature available at the church at the time and copies of church policies. They pointed out that George Regas was no longer the rector and had delivered his sermon as a guest speaker. Did the government want them to screen everything a guest speaker might say?
The IRS replied that they weren't satisfied with the materials provided and were continuing their "examination." Then the IRS made the church an offer, according to the church's lawyer, Marcus Owens. "They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage." The church refused. On Sunday, November 6, Rev. Bacon informed the congregation, and the world, of the IRS's moves.
The church also released correspondence from the government that shows that this move by the IRS is not some "mistake" that will go away once the facts are examined. And it shows that the people now running this country will not stop in their attempts to radically remake U.S. society. The government told the church that a single sermon from a guest speaker could be the basis for revoking tax-exempt status. They said that when a speaker mention the names "Bush" and "Kerry" and then talk about values, that "implies" an endorsement.
Since the moves of the IRS were publicized on November 6, All Saints has received hundreds of statements of support. Rev. Bacon announced that he will address the government attack in a special sermon on Sunday, November 13. The church has also set up a defense fund.
The government's attempt to silence or intimidate the voices of All Saints Church and of George Regas are part of a growing number of such moves. Marcus Owens noted that six years ago there were maybe 20 such letters sent out. But that number has increased dramatically. In the wake of the 2004 elections, over 100 institutions were targeted, a third of them churches, with 60 still-active investigations like the one against All Saints. Some of the targets are evangelical churches that support Bush.
The NAACP is presently being investigated for a speech by Executive Chairman Julian Bond criticizing Bush's civil rights policies. This shows how far-reaching this tactic is, and how chilling the result could be--a civil rights organization can't criticize the Bush regime around civil rights without being officially investigated.
"I see my mission to stand against that ferocious current that we see in America today," George Regas told Revolution. "I think that is a dangerous current. I don't think it is what a pluralistic, diverse nation can live with. It's not a Christian nation and we shouldn't try to make it that. It's a nation of many, many creeds. I don't think that All Saints Church is going to be silenced by all of this. To acquiesce to all of this, and say we're going to be silent on those hard issues is not going to happen. We would lose our soul if we did that."