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Falwell's Partisanship Shows In Fund Appeal, AU's Lynn Tells IRS.

More evidence has come to light that the Rev. Jerry Falwell is using a supposedly non-partisan voter mobilization drive to elect presidential candidate George W. Bush and other Republicans to public office.

Last month Americans United provided the Internal Revenue Service with a fund-raising letter from Jerry Falwell Ministries that provides compelling evidence the TV preacher's tax-exempt organization is violating federal tax law.

In a complaint filed with the IRS May 11, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the federal tax agency that Falwell's appeal for donations shows his ministry is transgressing the ban on partisan politicking by tax-exempt groups.

Said Lynn, "Jerry Falwell is clearly playing fast and loose with the federal tax law. It's time for the IRS to take action."

The Falwell letter obtained by Americans United seeks funds to support his plan to register 10 million new conservative Christian voters and turn out 35 million "Bible-believing" Christian voters on Election Day this fall. The appeal includes blatantly partisan language.

In the second paragraph of the letter, Falwell complains of "personal attacks on me by Al Gore and Democrat attack-man James Carville." He later charges that Democratic presidential nominee Gore is lying about an alleged meeting between Falwell, fellow TV preacher Pat Robertson and GOP candidate Bush.

"By fabricating this false story," observes Falwell, "Mr. Gore is sending a clear signal that Christians will be the target of a focused assault by his campaign in this election. Al Gore is making no secret of the fact that he wants the 2000 Elections to be a referendum, at least in part, on whether Christian conservatives like you and me have any place in American politics."

Later Falwell adds that Gore is "openly courting the radical homosexual movement and pledging allegiance to the most extreme parts of the gay agenda."

The Lynchburg, Va.-based televangelist warns, "If Christian voters fail to vote in record-breaking numbers in 2000 ... the anti-Christian Left will very likely end up taking control of all three branches of our federal government."

Falwell concludes, "In all, 100,000,000 Americans are expected to vote in the 2000 Election. This means we can virtually guarantee victory in November by making sure that at least 35,000,000 of these voters (more than one third of the total electorate) are Bible believing Christians."

Americans United first asked the IRS to investigate the Falwell voter project on April 14 (See "He's Ba-a-a-ck!," May 2000 Church & State). The organization's May 11 follow-up complaint to the IRS includes the Falwell fund-raising letter that further demonstrates the project's partisan character.

"If the IRS needs a smoking gun, this is it," said Lynn. "Falwell's letter makes it abundantly clear that his voter project has blatantly partisan goals."

Lynn noted that the federal tax agency revoked the tax exemption of a charitable group that conducted a partisan voter registration project in 1984. Literature from that group (which has not been identified by the IRS) did not name specific candidates, as the Falwell letter does.

Concluded Lynn, "All Americans -- including evangelical Christians -- should register to vote and participate in our democracy. But Jerry Falwell and other Religious Right leaders must play by the same rules that everyone else does. I urge the IRS to act promptly to enforce the law."

In other news about Falwell:

* The Rev. George Sweet, a Virginia pastor who once worked with Falwell on a political effort to elect Republicans to state office there, has filed for bankruptcy.

Sweet was pastor of Atlantic Shores Baptist Church in July of 1997 when Falwell encouraged him and other preachers to endorse Mark Earley, a GOP candidate for attorney general, from their pulpits. Falwell heralded the scheme as a new model for evangelical involvement in politics but abandoned it after Americans United reported the plan to the IRS.

About a month later, in an apparently unrelated move, Sweet abruptly resigned from the church after an unexplained "tragic mistake" that he said "morally disqualified" him from the pastorate. According to The Virginian-Pilot, he and his wife went into counseling, and Sweet focused on two business ventures, both of which failed. He is now nearly $800,000 in debt and is being sued by some of his creditors, including his own sister and her husband.

Sweet was a rising star of the Religious Right. His Kempsville, Va., church was one of the largest in southeastern Virginia. He ran for Congress as a Republican candidate in 1994, drawing support from Jack Kemp, Oliver North and Tim Robertson, son of TV preacher Pat Robertson. Sweet served on the board of Falwell's Liberty University and some saw him as a possible successor to Falwell.

* The Southern Baptist North American Mission Board (NAMB) is teaming up with Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church to undertake missionary efforts in Chicago. According to Baptist Press, Falwell's Lynchburg, Va., congregation and the Baptist agency will each put up $250,000 to open a new "flagship" church in Chicago's northern suburbs.

"We have a strong television constituency in Chicago," Falwell said. "Many, many write us wanting a good evangelistic, Bible-teaching church in the area."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Previous Article:Judgment Day.
Next Article:Federal Court Bars Mass. Ballot Question On Parochial School Aid.

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