Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Watchdog Group Files Complaint Against Liberty University

Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. violated federal tax law by using school resources to endorse Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the Internal Revenue Service.

In a complaint filed with the federal tax agency, Americans United noted that Falwell hosted the candidate at Liberty University and then sent an email message on Liberty University letterhead endorsing Huckabee.

In a “Liberty News Alert” dated Dec. 1, 2007, Falwell wrote, “Recently, Governor Mike Huckabee called to brief me on the progress of his campaign for the presidency. I invited the Governor to speak to the Liberty University students in Convocation on November 28. He graciously accepted. I was so impressed with the Governor’s sincerity and his positions on the issues that are important to conservative Christians that I personally endorsed Governor Huckabee before he left Lynchburg.”

Falwell goes on to say, “My father strongly supported Governor Huckabee when no one thought that he had any chance to succeed in the presidential race. I believe with all my heart that, if my father had witnessed Governor Huckabee’s surge in the polls and his ascension to first place in the Iowa polls, he would have endorsed Governor Huckabee without hesitation.”

The alert was accompanied by an article from a university-run online publication implying that Huckabee is God’s candidate.

Americans United sent a letter to IRS officials today, asking them to investigate the matter. The letter notes that on Nov. 19, the IRS issued a press statement reminding charities and churches about the ban on politicking and asks the tax agency to back that up with enforcement in this case.

“Falwell surely knows that these types of political endorsements are illegal,” remarked the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Tax-exempt religious institutions may not be used to support or oppose candidates for public office.”

Falwell seems to be following in the footsteps of his late father Jerry Falwell Sr. In 1993, Falwell Sr.'s Old Time Gospel Hour had its tax exemption retroactively revoked for the years 1986 and 1987 and the ministry was required to pay $50,000 because of involvement in partisan politics.

Pastors and heads of 501(c)(3) non-profit groups are free to endorse candidates as private individuals, but the Internal Revenue Code does not allow them to use institutional resources, such as official publications, Web sites and other forms of communication, to back or oppose candidates.

“Falwell seems determined to misuse tax-exempt resources, just like his father did,” said Lynn. “The IRS needs to step in and break this chain of flagrant disregard for the law.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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