The state revenue agents wondered about the concerts by Mitch Miller, Robert Goulet, and Tony Bennett.

The California State Board of Equalization ruled last month that the Garden Grove Community Church (the Crystal Cathedral) is ineligible for property tax-exempt status. The church was further billed for $400,000 in back taxes, which may be augmented by a $100,000 tax penalty from the Orange County assessor’s office. Church officials estimate that the loss of exemption could cost them $250,000 a year.

State investigator William Grommet cites the increasing use of church facilities for ostensibly commercial purposes as the reason for the disqualification. The status of the church, according to Grommet, has been under review since 1981. The state board took the final action because, in their view, church officials had failed to provide documentations for its tax-exempt status.

Robert Schuller founded the Garden Grove church in 1955, beginning with services in a drive-in theater. He has since built a congregation of 10,000, housed in the imposing Crystal Cathedral, which has become an Orange County landmark. The revenues of Schuller’s ministries, including the popular “Hour of Power” television program, total nearly $30 million annually.

In addition to traditionally religious performances such as the “Glory of Christmas,” the cathedral has played host to opera singer Beverly Sills, pianist Victor Borge, and musical troupes from Lawrence Welk’s show. This season was to feature appearances by the Fifth Dimension, Roberta Peters, Tony Bennett, Mitch Miller, the piano duo of Ferrante and Teischer, the Prague Chamber Orchestra, and singer Robert Goulet, all of whom have had their performances canceled. Ticket prices had been as high as $14. The state also objected to the presence of a Ticketron agency on church property and activities such as aerobic dancing and Weight Watchers, which have also recently been canceled.

Church spokesman Fred Southard told the Los Angeles Times the previous week that the government review came as a total surprise, adding that “the whole area [of exemption criteria] is so gray. There are no sharply defined guidelines. They can’t seem to tell us what is wrong until after we do it.”

At a December 21 press conference, Schuller, who is known for his possibility-thinking philosophy, stated that his aim for the cathedral was to minister to the whole community. He cited the traditional role of cathedrals as centers of culture and outlined the many ministries of his congregation and the 300 people he employs.

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Concerning the tax status, Schuller affirms that he does not believe there is a real difficulty. “We are used to tackling mountains,” he said. “A bump in the road is no problem.” He further stated that he believes the church’s tax-exempt status will be restored, but did not specify when.

Cathedral spokesman Mike Nason expects an immediate appeal and dialogue with government officials in which the necessary documentation for restoration of the church’s former status will be presented.


For nearly five years, the fate of two Siberian Pentecostal families caught in an impasse between the United States and the Soviet Union has focused attention on religious persecution abroad. Throughout 1982, Congressman Don Bonker (D-Wash.) held hearings on the issue, demonstrating to his colleagues that the Vashchenkos and Chmykhalovs, living in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, are not alone in their trouble.

The series of nine subcommittee hearings examined the plight of Baha’is in Iran, Jews in Eastern Europe, Coptic Christians in Egypt, and incidents of religious intolerance in Asia and Latin America. The full House of Representatives responded on December 17 by passing a resolution that condemns “persecution and discrimination by any institution, group of persons, or person on grounds of religious or other beliefs.” It recommends that the United Nations establish a permanent working group to investigate specific charges of persecution.

The Senate allowed the measure to die in committee during the lame duck session last month, and it is unlikely to be pressed again in the new Congress. But Bonker and the Human Rights Subcommittee he chairs believe House passage succeeded in expressing a sense of the Congress and reinforces the stance of the U.S. delegation to the UN, where a more detailed resolution passed in late 1981 after 20 years of volatile negotiations.

In his statement at the final congressional hearing, Bonker said, “It is unlikely that the U.S. can end religious persecution, but we can make the issue an integral part of our foreign policy.”

Earnest Gordon, director of CREED (Christian Rescue Effort for the Emancipation of Dissidents), agrees that “the effectiveness lies in keeping the memory of the reality of persecution in the forefront. We need to do more of this.” Gordon, who is particularly concerned with the persecution of Christians abroad, said the time is right to apply pressure on the Soviet Union because of its recent change in leadership as well as “a very significant, steady religious revival among young people” behind the Iron Curtain.

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Soviet intransigence has prevented UN action on its resolution ever since the general assembly voted in 1962 to address racial and religious discrimination in two separate resolutions. Efforts to condemn religious intolerance continued until the resolution passed on November 25, 1981.

In one of its most significant provisions, the UN resolution outlines specific rights that accompany religious freedom, including assembling for worship, maintaining a meeting place, writing and distributing publications, teaching religious beliefs, soliciting voluntary financial contributions, observing holidays, and maintaining communications nationally and internationally.

U.S. negotiator Thomas A. Johnson is reluctant to endorse Bonker’s call for instituting a working group, which would be a permanent fixture for investigating persecutions.

Johnson would rather emphasize efforts by nongovernmental organizations to apply pressure. These would include groups such as CREED and the American Jewish Committee already active on this front, as well as denominations and umbrella groups such as the National Council of Churches and National Association of Evangelicals.

Basically, this is the method the U.S. State Department has favored in its own battles over religious freedom. Gordon, however, questions the wisdom of the low-profile, hands-off approach, pointing out “it seems as though quiet diplomacy always favors the Soviet Union.” His experience with the “Siberian Seven” has reinforced his skepticism because since June 1978, the government has been unsuccessful in clearing a path through the wilderness of Soviet bureaucracy for the Christians trapped in the embassy.

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