The Los Angeles Times did us all a favor earlier this week by posting the text of a sermon given in 2004 that has All Saints Episcopal Church under an Internal Revenue Service investigation. In the age of the Internet, all reporters need to follow this practice because there is really no reason not to. Even if a few days have gone by, or even weeks, posting the text gives a reporter a chance to revisit an issue. It will also keep reporters honest. When reporters know that the speech they are reporting on will be made available to all, they are going to be darn sure to quote the text accurately and in proper context.
The Times not only posted the entire text of the sermon on its website, but also printed about a third of the sermon in the dead-pulp version.Hhere is the newspaper's summary, and an update that is sure to thrill any government investigator:
The sermon, delivered Oct. 31, 2004, by the Rev. George F. Regas, was framed as a debate involving Jesus, President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
In September, the church announced that it would not comply with an IRS summons demanding that All Saints turn over materials with political references, such as sermons and newsletters, produced during the 2004 election year. The current rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, did not obey a summons that ordered him to testify before IRS investigators.
The church continues to set a defiant tone. On Sunday, All Saints will sponsor a conference called "The War, the Pulpit and the Right to Preach." It will include workshops on conflict resolution, tax law and "Prophetic Traditions and Free Speech." Regas and Bacon are scheduled to speak.
But did Regas' speech violate federal laws? The answer, [most] likely to come from the courts, hinges on how one defines campaigning and interprets his remarks.
Earlier this month, The Washington Times nailed an excellent story in the church-state separation battle that found a minister saying that voting for one candidate would be like voting to free Barabbas instead of Jesus.
I'm hoping that when the Times decides to follow up on this potentially explosive story, it will include the full text (or even the audio) to give the readers the knowledge that they have the full story before them.