09/25/2006 09:51 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As The IRS Targets A Liberal Church, Right-Wing Churches Are Left Alone


The liberal All Saints Church (Episcopal) of Pasadena, California, which was threatened with the loss of its tax-exempt status over an anti-war sermon delivered just days before the 2004 presidential election said Thursday it will contest an IRS order to turn over documents on the matter.

The dispute at the 3,500-member (including actor Bradley Whitford) church centers on a sermon titled "If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush," delivered by a guest pastor. Though he did not endorse a candidate, the guest speaker said Jesus would condemn the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war.

The AP notes that under federal tax law, church officials can legally discuss politics, but to retain tax-exempt status, they cannot endorse candidates or parties.

The anti-war statements don't sound to me that a candidate or party was endorsed. It could stand to reason that if taken to heart, a condemnation of President Bush's Iraqi politics might have persuaded members to vote for John Kerry. But that was never said. There were plenty of other "minor" party candidates running, including some with far more virulent anti-Iraq war views than Kery. And, of course, the members were free to not vote at all.

Now- keeping in mind the prohibition against tax-exempt churches endorsing candidates or parties- compare what was said at All Saints vs. this admonition from the pastor of a 10,000-member, highly conservative megachurch in Ohio just before the 2004 election. The description is from an article in today's issue of the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper:

In her book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, (author Michelle Goldberg) describes a Sunday-morning service in Ohio before the 2004 American presidential election, where amid thundering music and strobe lights, a 10,000-member congregation listened to "how Jesus wanted them to save marriage from the hell-spawned forces of homosexuality on Nov. 2 . . ."

The pastor warned of Christianity under siege and that secular democrats had invaded Ohio "going door to door, knocking on doors so we can continue to murder babies and further strip the church of its First Amendment rights through hate-crimes legislation," all of which he called "the annihilation of a civilization."

I don't recall reading that church being challenged by the IRS. Do you?