Go, exercise your First Amendment rights, maybe

Back in January, CCP wrote about a California church, All Saints, that was under investigation by the IRS for potentially violating the tax code when its pastor, Reverend George Regas, delivered a sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election in which he imagined Jesus participating in a debate with John Kerry and George Bush.

At the time, CCP predicted that "All Saints [probably won’t] lose its tax-exempt status, but it is a mistake to conclude [as a USA Today editorial did] that All Saints has suffered no consequences.  All Saints has been incurring legal bills in connection with this investigation since 2004.  And thanks to the hopelessly abstruse ‘facts and circumstances test’ used by the IRS to evaluate political intervention, it is unlikely that the conclusion of the investigation will leave All Saints with any better idea of how to avoid investigation in the future, other than to avoid all discussion of political issues."

On Monday, the LA Times reported that the investigation is complete and the Church no longer faces the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status.  However, the Times also reports that "[i]n its latest letter to All Saints, dated Sept. 10, the IRS said the church continues to qualify for tax-exempt status, but said that Regas’ sermon did amount to intervention in the 2004 presidential race. The letter offered no details or explanation for either conclusion."

All Saints’ rector, Rev. J Edwin Bacon Jr, "predicted that the vague, mixed message from the IRS after its nearly two-year investigation of the All Saints case would have a continued "chilling effect" on the freedom of clerics from all faiths to preach about moral values and significant social issues such as war and poverty.

Although the church no longer faces the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status, All Saints has "no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process," the rector said. He said the church would continue its struggle with the IRS, which he said so far had cost the 3,500-member congregation about $200,000."

So, yes, your speech violated the law. But, no, we aren’t going to do anything about it.  Perhaps we will in the future, perhaps we won’t.  Now go enjoy your First Amendment rights.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.