LOS ANGELES – Rep. Adam Schiff called on the Internal Revenue Service Tuesday to explain its inquiry regarding a prominent liberal church that could lose its tax-exempt status for an anti-war sermon given days before the 2004 election.
In a letter to the IRS, Schiff, D-Pasadena, wrote that the agency’s actions regarding All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena “appear to be wholly unwarranted” and based largely on published reports.
He requested the IRS provide his office with details regarding its inquiries involving tax-exempt organizations. In particular, Schiff wants to know how many involve claims of political activity criticizing President Bush or promoting administration policies.
“I want to make sure IRS investigations of churches are not being performed with a political agenda in mind,” Schiff said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
At issue is whether there was an explicit or implicit endorsement contained within a sermon given two days before the election by the Rev. George F. Regas.
Regas did not urge parishioners to support President Bush or Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., but he was critical of the Iraq war and Bush’s tax cuts.
The church first received word of the IRS inquiry in June and was told by the agency the case would be dropped if the church admitted crossing the line and vowed never to do so again, according to Rector Ed Bacon.
“I do not believe that Rev. Regas relinquished his First Amendment rights when he became a clergyman, nor that the church should be at risk of losing its tax-exemption when its clergy or congregants comment on public matters,” Schiff wrote in the letter, which was also sent to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.
Schiff said he was considering whether to request a former congressional inquiry.
The IRS has declined comment on the All Saints matter but has provided a fact sheet detailing its policies regarding political activities by tax-exempt organizations.
In October 2004, the IRS said it had reviewed information alleging improper political intervention by more than 100 charities, churches and tax-exempt groups for the year.