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Political pulpits

Since the time of Richard Nixon and his abuse of the Internal Revenue Service it's a common joke that anyone who angers the president is highly likely to get an audit. It's unfortunate, though, that such a threat doesn't always remain in the land of jest and conjecture.\nIn a nod toward Nixon, it seems the Bush administration's IRS is reviewing the nonprofit status of a church in the Los Angeles area for some statements a guest pastor made a few days before the election last year. The Sunday before the election, All Saints Episcopal Church, hosted two guest preachers: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the high-ranking Episcopal official and winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, and George F. Regas, a former pastor of All Saints. \nRegas gave a speech in which he envisioned Jesus having a conversation with both President Bush and the president's primary challenger, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. In the speech, Regas imagined that Jesus would have upbraided President Bush for his doctrine of pre-emption and committing the country to an unnecessary war. While Regas repeatedly stressed his belief that a good Christian could vote for either candidate, the IRS still objected to the speech as political advocacy, something that nonprofit churches are forbidden from doing.\nAt the same time, there are a number of churches that were noted for hosting speakers that gave stridently pro-Bush speeches from the pulpit in the days leading up to the election. In particular, a former staffer for Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., drew fire for seeking the use of churches in the Pennsylvania area as a platform from which to launch a Republican Get-Out-The-Vote campaign. However, while the IRS could see no fault with using churches as bases from which to launch recruitment campaigns, it seems to believe that criticizing the Iraq War for going against Christian teachings scandalously crosses the church/state line.\nI'm a Catholic, and I don't know how many different churches I've attended where the Iraq War was soundly criticized as immoral and un-Christian. None of these churches are being investigated. Neither are the ones participating in the blatantly political actions in Pennsylvania. Yet, somehow, All Saints (considered to be at the core of the religious left movement in California) manages to draw the ire of the IRS. This is, in my mind, ridiculous and smacks of the same sort of political persecution figures on the right (such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) faced from the IRS in the 1980s.\nWhile churches should rightly stay out of the endorsing business (something the Bush administration actually sought to change early in its first term), they must be allowed to criticize current events based upon their religious understandings. Freedom of religion implies that the church should be free from unwarranted restrictions on their speech, just as the state should be free from unwarranted pressure from the church.\nThis audit seems politically motivated. I would hope, dear reader, that you share my concern and will consider taking a few minutes to contact one of your elected officials.

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