LOS ANGELES U.S. tax authorities have warned a prominent liberal church that it could lose its tax-exempt status because of an anti-war sermon a priest gave on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, according to church officials.
The Rev. George F. 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 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 Nov. 6.
"It's important for everyone to understand that the IRS concerns are not supported by the facts," Bacon said.
Bacon later said he chose Nov. 6 to inform the congregation because Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was in attendance and because he believed a decision from the IRS was imminent. He called the IRS threat "a direct assault on freedom of speech and freedom of religion."
An IRS spokesman in Washington declined to comment yesterday, saying he could not discuss particular cases.
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 and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, 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, N.Y., lost its status after running advertisements against Bill Clinton's candidacy before the 1992 presidential election.