Wed, Nov 09, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Church may lose tax-free status over anti-war sermon


US tax authorities have warned a prominent liberal church that it could lose its tax-exempt status because of an anti-war sermon a preacher gave on the eve of the presidential election last year, according to church officials.

The Reverend George Regas did not urge parishioners at All Saints Episcopal Church to support either President George W. Bush or his opponent at the ballot, John Kerry, but he was critical of the Iraq war and Bush's tax cuts.

The US Internal Revenue Service warned the church in June that its tax-exempt status was in jeopardy because such organizations are prohibited from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

The church's rector, J. Edwin Bacon, told his congregation about the problem on Sunday.

"It's important for everyone to understand that the IRS concerns are not supported by the facts," Bacon said.

Bacon later said he chose Sunday to inform the congregation because Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was in attendance and because he believes the IRS threat is "a direct assault on freedom of speech and freedom of religion."

Some All Saints members said they feared the 3,500-member church was being singled out for its political views.

Marcus Owens, the church's tax attorney, said the agency offered to drop the proceedings if the church admitted wrongdoing. The church declined the offer, he said.

The IRS has revoked a church's charitable designation at least once. A church in Binghamton, New York, lost its status after running advertisements against Bill Clinton's candidacy before the 1992 presidential election.

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