The IRS finally looks at church/state separation

After Justice Sunday passed this year, some of us were wondering whether the Internal Revenue Service would ever investigate blatantly political churches like Two Rivers Baptist in Nashville.

Now, we learn that the IRS is indeed going after a church for political involvement: All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena may lose its tax-exempt status because its rector, J. Edwin Bacon, preached an anti-war sermon two days before the 2004 election.

In all fairness, it should be noted that in 1992, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of a Binghamton, New York church because it ran ads opposing the candidacy of Bill Clinton. The tax code explicitly prohibits churches from becoming involved in campaigns and elections. Though an argument can be made that opposing the war in Iraq was a campaign issue in 2004, the same argument can be made that August’s Justice Sunday, which involved many churches, was a direct promotion of the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts. Then there is the matter of large tax-exempt church-related organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition, which routinely involved themselves in election matters.

I am opposed to the tax exempt status of churches because I perceive them as primarily as private clubs at the least, and agents of social control at their very worst. But if the tax-exempt status is to remain in place–and we know it is–how odd that, after thirteen years, the only target is a liberal institution in California.