Banned books and other forms of censorship

On the banning of books, censorship and other freedom of access issues

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Church defies IRS over investigation

All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena California, one of the few liberal megachurches in the country, with a membership of around 3,500, has refused to comply with the IRS in its investigation of the church's tax exempt status. The investigation began after a guest priest delivered a sermon critical of President Bush two days before the presidential election in 2004.

The sermon, delivered by the former rector of the church George F. Regas, was presented in the mode of the evangelical slogan "what would Jesus do," in this case, what would Jesus say if he were in a debate with George Bush and John Kerry. During the course of the sermon Regas criticized the war in Iraq and economic inequalities in the U.S., but also emphasized to the congregation that he would respect their choices, whether it be for Bush or Kerry. The Episcopal faith, he said, "calls us to speak to the issues of war and poverty, bigotry, torture, and all forms of terrorism … always stopping short of supporting or opposing political parties or candidates for public office."

The IRS has issued a summons demanding the church turn over by Sept. 29 all materials, such as newsletters and sermons, produced during the 2004 election year with political references. Church authorities have replied that this is not possible.

All Saints has placed at its website various documents related to the controversy, including the offending sermon and correspondence with the IRS.

In other church-state news, the Ninth Circuit court ruled in a 2-1 decision that the Antioch public library of Contra Costa country, California did not violate religious freedom when it barred religious services in its meeting rooms. The decision declared that while the Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries had the right to hold religious discussions in a room that was open to other community groups, the library could bar religious services on the grounds that it may interfere with the its "primary function as a sanctuary for reading, writing and quiet contemplation." Dissenting was Judge Richard Tallman, who said: "Separating religious worship from other religious speech inevitably leads to state entanglement in religion" and is beyond the government's authority.

And a federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting a Southeast Missouri school district from allowing the free distribution by the Gideon Society of Bibles to fifth graders. The case is being appealed to the Eighth Circuit court.


Blogger Jack Stephens said...

Steve, what does this have to do with censorship?

8:40 PM  
Blogger Stephen Denney said...

Jack, I believe the issue here is how freely can churches address political issues, particularly during election season. The Los Angeles Times article I linked to quotes Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who 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."

There are two other church-state issues which I had intended to add to this entry, and might do so in the next day or two: one on a court order banning religious services at a library in this area and the other on a court order preventing the distribution of bibles to fifth graders. I don't think any of these issues are black and white, but they do raise interesting questions that would seem to me to touch upon the issue of censorship.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Stephen Denney said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Stephen Denney said...

I removed the above comment because it was an accidental duplication of my reply to Jack.

9:11 PM  

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