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.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.