Readers want the full text

stack of newspapersThe 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.

newspaper readersThis is not the first time we have praised the LAT for its coverage of the church-state battles. The LAT seems to get it when it comes to the law, religion and the history of how they relate.

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.

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  • Dan

    The papers should also have printed Pope Benedict’s Regensberg address.

  • John

    I do believe that Regas had the freedom and the right to preach his message with complete freedom, and the IRS ought to go read the First Amendment…

    But oh, Mr. Regas… you will answer to a far more powerful authority than the IRS!

    Deuteronomy18:20 “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’– 22when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”

  • Steve

    While Regas has the first admendment right to free speech, the tax exempt status of the church is a staturory issues.

    The key question is this: If a religious body so committed to their position that they are willing to lose their tax exempt status if the position violates federal law.

  • Dennis Colby

    Kudos to the LA Times for printing the sermon. It’s not just valuable for reporters, but for anyone interested in primary sources. That’s a long sermon, though; while the Times has a reputation for not fearing the 60 inch story, I don’t know if other papers will be as willing to part with that much white space. Sounds like a tailor-made opportunity to put original content on a newspaper’s Web site. How great would it be if papers all had a Smoking Gun-style document archive on their Web pages?

  • tmatt

    Websites are a great place to put the full texts.

    Promo in the dead-tree-pulp edition, using pull quotes, then put the goods online.