Monday, November 07, 2005

IRS Harrasses Antiwar Church in California

Here's a story that deserves further investigating--news that the Internal Revenue Service has threatened the tax-exempt status of an Episcopal church in Pasadena whose rector dared to give an antiwar sermon two days before last year's presidential election.

I could easily segue into a rant about the hypocrisy of the Christian right and their allies in Washington, who don't hesitate to push their own brand of politics from the pulpit. But why preach from the same well-worn text to my choir of liberal readers? Instead I'd rather urge anyone in the news media who may see these words to start digging further into what happened here and the pattern of behavior exhibited by the Bush administration's IRS toward non-for-profit entities, especially churches, throughout the United States.

Is there a pattern here? That's not yet clear. As far as I know, the IRS challenge to the tax-exempt status of the NAACP because of a speech by Julian Bond critical of the Bush administration is still ongoing. (Google traces no news coverage of the story in recent months.) The Pasadena church case apparently dates back several months and has only become public now because the pastor, disturbed by the IRS's unwillingness to withdraw its complaint, decided to go public in a sermon this past Sunday. Are there other liberal organizations that are being harrassed by the IRS that we haven't heard about?

If Bush or Cheney, through subordinates such as Karl Rove, has quietly (or not-so-quietly) urged the IRS to use its audit power to pursue the president's political opponents, that's an impeachable offense. At least, that's what twenty-eight out of thirty-eight members of the House Judiciary Committee (including six Republicans) decided on July 27, 1974, when they voted to approve Article 2 of the Bill of Impeachment against Richard M. Nixon. It reads in part:

Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposes of these agencies.

This conduct has included one or more of the following:

1. He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposed not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be intitiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner. . . .

I know it's hard to stay in a permanent state of outrage against the crooks and bullies who currently control the White House and Congress. But let's never forget that this is not "politics as usual." If the administration is behind an IRS policy of selective enforcement of the laws for political reasons, these are high crimes and misdemeanors and should be punished as such.

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