Falling Falwell

Jerry Falwell has crossed the line with his open endorsement of Bush and the AUSCS wants his tax-exempt status revoked.

Hoping to send a warning to churches helping the Bush campaign turn out conservative voters, a liberal group has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service charging that an organization run by the Rev. Jerry Falwell has violated the requirements of its tax-exempt status by endorsing Mr. Bush’s re-election.”For conservative people of faith, voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush,” Mr. Falwell wrote in the July 1 issue of his e-mail newsletter “Falwell Confidential” and on his Web site, falwell.com. “The alternative, in my mind, is simply unthinkable. To the pro-life, pro-family, pro-traditional marriage, pro-America voters in this nation, we must determine that President Bush is the man with our interests at heart. It is that simple.”

He added: “I believe it is the responsibility of every political conservative, every evangelical Christian, every pro-life Catholic, every traditional Jew, every Reagan Democrat, and everyone in between to get serious about re-electing President Bush.”

Mr. Falwell, who helped lead conservative evangelical Protestants into politics 20 years ago as the founder of the Moral Majority, also asked for contributions to a political action committee run by the social conservative Gary Bauer. “It is the organization that I believe can have the greatest impact in re-electing Mr. Bush to the Oval Office,” he wrote.

Can’t get much more blatant than that. Falwell has spent his career skating along that very thin line between endorsement and support, between private and professional acts. This should have been done 30 years ago when he was using his church and his tv show to support Nixon; those were over the line, too. When he got away with it, it just got worse. The fact is that Falwell is a closet CR (Christian Reconstructionist) like Pat Robertson. Neither recognizes any validity in the church-state separation issue; on the contrary, both will do everything they can to erase it.

Yesterday, the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued in a letter to the I.R.S. that one of Mr. Falwell’s religious organizations, Jerry Falwell Ministries, had disseminated the message in violation of tax rules, which restrict tax-exempt religious groups and charitable organizations from engaging in politics.In an interview, Mr. Lynn said the complaint was also a response to the Bush campaign’s effort to enlist thousands of pastors and churchgoers to help get members of conservative congregations to the polls.

“I certainly hope that this sends a clear message that religious organizations have got to operate within federal tax laws restricting partisan politicking,” he said. “And I think the message is that the campaign has been reckless in its approach to churches, recklessly trying to lure them into political activities.”

The word ‘reckless’ is wrong. there’s nothing reckless about it. It’s a calculated ploy to pander to the Christian right and to identify Bush with Christianity, leaving Kerry with..what? The other day a local right-wing talk show host, Jay Severin, told a caller that the choice for voters was a Christian Bush or a ‘Marxist’ Kerry.

The Republican-controlled IRS is unlikely to move on this and court challenges will take years to be decided, but the publicity spawned by a centrist church organization finally, after all these years, protesting Falwell’s contemptuous disregard for the rules could be worth its weight in gold–or votes.

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