Under Bush the IRS Targeted a Liberal Church for an Anti War Sermon

Under Bush the IRS Targeted a Liberal Church for an Anti War Sermon

church targeted

No one ever apologized to All Saints Episcopal Church for an IRS investigation triggered by an anti war sermon given in 2004.

In September of 2006, under the very politicized Bush administration, the IRS investigated a liberal California church because of an antiwar sermon delivered by its former rector. The sermon in question was delivered on Oct. 31, 2004 by Rev. George F. Regas, who prefaced his indictment of the Iraq war and the Bush policies that increased the chasm between the rich and the poor with the statement that he was not urging the congregation to vote one way or another.

The L.A. Times reported:

The IRS investigation was triggered by an antiwar sermon delivered by its former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, at the church two days before the 2004 presidential election. The summons even requests utility bills to establish costs associated with hosting Regas’ speech. Bacon was ordered to testify before IRS officials Oct. 11.


Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who unsuccessfully tried to launch a Government Accountability Office investigation into the IRS’ probes of churches nationwide last year, called the summons “a very disturbing escalation” of the agency’s scrutiny of All Saints.

“I don’t want religious organizations to become arms of campaigns,” he said. “But they should be able to talk about issues of war and peace without fear of losing tax-exempt status. If they can’t, they’ll have little to say from the pulpit.”

§ 501(c)(3) puts a ban on campaign intervention by non-profits.

The San Fransciso Gate followed up in October after the church parishioners voted to resist turning over all of their documents to the IRS. Bob Long, the Church’s senior warden, said that they were fighting the IRS on the “narrow grounds” that the sermon didn’t cross the line, “It’s sad that they’re picking on us, because we really respect the IRS regulations. It’s a wise policy that churches like ours should not endorse candidates, and we don’t want the law changed.”

The general secretary of the National Council of Churches and a retired Democratic representative from Pennsylvania, Bob Egar, told the San Fransciso Gate that “the investigation of All Saints feels to him like an attempt to scare churches away from expressing moral views on political issues, and he argued that many conservative churches are far more blatant in their efforts to sway voters.”

In September of 2007, All Saints announced that the IRS has closed its two year investigation into whether the church’s tax-exempt status should be revoked. The church demanded an investigation of the IRS and an apology, but did not get one.

The church asked the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, to investigate allegations that Bush’s very politicized (a matter of record and fact) Department of Justice had played a role in the IRS’ investigation, suggesting that the investigation was politically motivated. Using non-political posts in the government to target political opponents was a recurring theme under Bush, including the firing of the U.S. Attorneys for failing to prosecute Democratic targets due to lack of evidence, and the improper politicization of the Justice Department, as determined by the department’s Inspector General.

In the case of the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, ironically, the comittee noted that the firings were unprecedented and inaccurate statements had been given as to why, leading to speculation that the firings were political. “However, as described in this report, there are gaps in our investigation because of the refusal of certain key witnesses to be interviewed by us, including former White House officials Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and William Kelley, former Department of Justice White House Liaison Monica Goodling, Senator Pete Domenici, and his Chief of Staff. In addition, the White House would not provide us internal documents related to the removals of the U.S. Attorneys.”

The Bush administration became infamous for ignoring subpoenae and refusing to turn over documents. It’s beyond disengenuous to even compare their wilful obstruction of investigations with any actions by the Obama admisinstration thus far. This does not mean that the IRS shouldn’t be invesgitated for allegedly targeting conservatives, though it seems that what is really needed is a set of rules about what will not be tolderated that are clear.

Bush U.S. Attorney Bradley Schlozman, a Republican appointee, said he was directed by career officials in the Justice Department’s public corruption section to seek voter registration fraud indictments against members of ACORN right before the 2006 midterm elections, even though the Justice Department has regulations against bringing charges in the lead up to an election.

A July 2008 report from Bush’s Department of Justice Inspector General’s Office and the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Schlozman “considered political and ideological affiliations when hiring and taking other personnel actions relating to career attorneys in violation of Department policy and federal law.” They added, “We also believe he made false statements to Congress about his actions.”

This does not justify any targetig of any groups. As President Obama said Monday, both Democrats and Republicans should be outraged by abuse of government power to target politcal opponents. However, it remains to be seen yet whether the IRS actually did that. What is known is that the Bush administration was guilty of using high level agencies to target political opponents, and broke the law in order to do so. Oddly, the same people screaming about Benghazi were wholly uniterested when the Bush administration was proven guilty of abusing their power to target Democratic institutions, people, and political opponents.

Conservatives will scoff and suggest that bringing Bush up now is a joke. However, a value or standard is something that is consisent no matter the party of the abuser. It should be laughable for Republicans to charge politicization, when they spent eight years justifying real abuse of power by the Bush administration. That is why the standards acceptable under Bush are relevant now.

In the real world, where facts matter and logic gets some oxygen, governmental agencies should not be used to target political opponents. Both parties should stand for that principle enough to call their own out when they’re wrong. If it’s not wrong when your party does it, and it’s been proven after investigations that they did, then you can hardly point your finger with an ounce of crediblity.

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