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Separation of Church and State
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A guest sermon by former rector of the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, the Rev. George Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, prompted a letter from the IRS declaring that the church risked losing its tax exempt status.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and first Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

I was surprised at this turn of events when the letter threatening the Episcopal Church was not followed by any IRS actions regarding...let's see...Jerry Falwell comes to mind. And James Dobson with "Focus on the Family" and how about the Archbishops who declared John Kerry beyond the pale for his views on abortion. There are a lot of tax-exempt institutions, churches in particular, whom the IRS, in the interest of equity, should put under review if they are going to challenge Regas' sermon.

I guess it wasn't sufficient for the cleric to make the point that he was not telling people how to vote, but urging them to vote their conscience, their basic values. Did any IRS agent actually hear the sermon or did they base their actions on a news report?

One could argue that all of life is political and that all values are at their core religious. Does that mean that evaluating a political choice in the light of those values is wrong and taxable? Or that conservative Christians are the only ones allowed to apply their values to their politics and the rest of the world has to keep quiet or be subjected to unequal application of the laws? Fundamentalist Christians do not have an exclusive claim to the truth nor are their values the only correct ones. Further, ethical positions are not more valid because they are draped in the robes of religion.

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