IRS asked to investigate TV preacher’s effort to register Christians to vote

Friday, May 12, 2000

Jerry Falwell

A televangelist’s nationwide effort to register 10 million Christians for the
November general elections has prompted a civil rights group to ask the Internal
Revenue Service to strip the TV preacher of his tax-exempt status.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based
nonprofit group, yesterday asked the IRS to investigate Jerry Falwell’s
tax-exempt effort, called People of Faith 2000, and to force the group to adhere
to tax law. The IRS forbids tax-exempt groups, like most churches, from directly
participating in partisan politics.

Last year, the Christian Coalition, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson,
lost its tax-exempt status following years of complaints by Americans United
that Robertson’s group produced clearly partisan voter guides and was
essentially a fund-raising group for the GOP.

In mid-April, Falwell launched People of Faith, a multimillion-dollar drive
“to bring ten million people of faith — people who have never before voted — to
the polls on November 7, 2000,” his Web site states. Falwell, moreover,
describes the effort as “a movement to reclaim America as one nation under God.”
Falwell has announced to several media outlets, including CNN, that he believes
Texas Gov. George W. Bush should be the next president.

Barry Lynn, director of Americans United, said Falwell’s appeal to Christian
voters includes blatantly partisan language and that the preacher is “clearly
playing fast and loose with the federal tax law.” Lynn said it was “time for the
IRS to take action.”

In his letter announcing People of Faith 2000, Falwell claims “leftists in
Congress” and liberals in general attempt to demonize and marginalize
evangelicals. Falwell’s letter also attacks Vice President Al Gore for “openly
courting the radical homosexual movement and pledging allegiance to the most
extreme parts of the gay agenda.”

“We cannot remain silent while our rights are stripped,” Falwell said.
“People of faith in America must arise and be counted. This nation under God
desperately needs our participation today.”

Lynn said Falwell’s letter “makes it abundantly clear that his voter project
has blatantly partisan goals.”

“Jerry Falwell is abusing tax-exempt religious ministries to push a partisan
political agenda,” Lynn continued. “This project is not a noble campaign
designed to simply register more Americans to vote. It is a highly partisan
drive that Falwell admits is intended to help put Gov. Bush in the White

Falwell told CBS News last month that his effort was not intended to endorse

“We’re not endorsing or opposing any candidate or any party,” Falwell said.
“We are not even sending out voter guides. We believe that if we are able to get
millions of people of faith to the polls November 7, most Americans certainly
will be able to live with the results.”

Falwell also implied in his letter announcing the registration drive that
conservative efforts to register voters are unfairly targeted by the IRS.

“Obviously, we will not endorse or oppose any congressional, presidential or
other candidates,” Falwell said. “This is not allowed by law. Only liberal
clergymen and religious organizations can endorse candidates and raise church
funds for candidates without civil or criminal repercussion.”

Rob Boston, assistant communications director for AU, said the IRS allows
churches to conduct voter-registration drives, but only drives that are not
clearly partisan. He also cited an IRS ruling from 1990 in which the federal
agency revoked a conservative church’s tax-exempt status after concluding the
group’s drive to elect Ronald Reagan in 1984 was partisan.

Falwell’s efforts are “even worse, because he has made it clear that he wants
to defeat Al Gore and elect Bush, he can’t do that with a nonprofit group,”
Boston said.

As evidence of Falwell’s intent, AU also sent the IRS a 9-page letter that
Falwell mailed last month to potential voters. In his letter, addressed “Dear
Christian Friend,” Falwell lamented a national moral decline at the hands of the
“anti-Christian left” and the “left-wing elite.”

According to Falwell, the “left-wing elite” has spent most of the last decade
trying to muzzle the voices of fundamentalists and that Gore, if elected, would
only strengthen the left’s attacks.

“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 a place in American politics,” Falwell’s letter states.

Falwell urges his Christian friends to do three things: Complete and sign a
“Promise to Pray, Promise to Vote” card; give the Promise to Vote cards to other
“Christian brothers and sisters; and “send the best contribution you can to help
fund an enormous $1.8 million” voter drive, “which we’re calling People of Faith