Like a coddled child brimming with entitlement, the Bush administration seems to respond petulantly when it fails to get or hear what it wants, acting out against those who dare to express dissent with intimidation and/or name-calling. Today’s Los Angeles Times features a story that suggests just how low the Bush administration or its agents can go. On this occasion, the target of their sullen pique is a California church:
A liberal Pasadena church on Thursday declared that it will refuse to comply with an IRS investigation into its tax-exemption status launched after a guest speaker was critical of President Bush in a sermon.
At a news conference attended by 50 cheering supporters gathered before the marble altar at All Saints Episcopal Church, the Rev. Ed Bacon said his 3,500-member congregation did not violate tax regulations barring tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates when a former rector, George F. Regas, criticized the Bush administration two days before the 2004 presidential election.
The Episcopal faith, the 58-year-old rector said, “calls us to speak to the issues of war and poverty, bigotry, torture, and all forms of terrorism â€¦ always stopping short of supporting or opposing political parties or candidates for public office.”
Joined by members of other faiths, he added, “We are also not here for ourselves alone but to defend the freedom of pulpits in faith communities throughout our land.”
The All Saints case escalated a week ago when the IRS slapped the 80-year-old parish with a summons demanding that it turn over by Sept. 29 all materials, such as newsletters and sermons, produced during the 2004 election year with political references. Bacon was told to testify in person Oct. 11.
At stake, several religious leaders say, is freedom from government intimidation when churches address moral issues of the day from the pulpit.
In an interview, Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “Churches should not endorse political candidates. But the IRS is seriously out of kilter and wrong-headed on this one; it’s an appalling intrusion and it smacks of intimidation.” [full text]