July 18th, 2004


Falwell violating tax-exempt status by endorsing W

Rev. Jerry Falwell accused of violating tax-exempt status by endorsing Bush
- JUSTIN BERGMAN, Associated Press Writer
Friday, July 16, 2004


A religious watchdog group claims the Rev. Jerry Falwell has violated his church's tax-exempt status by endorsing President Bush and urging followers to donate to a conservative political action campaign.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint Thursday with the Internal Revenue Service seeking an investigation.

"We want to demonstrate that even the most wealthy and powerful television preachers are not above the law," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the organization.

In a newsletter sent to supporters July 1, Falwell wrote:

"For conservative people of faith, voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush. This is why I am utilizing this column to urge you to support the Campaign for Working Families, which is headed by Gary Bauer. It is the organization that I believe can have the greatest impact in re-electing Mr. Bush to the Oval Office."
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In a document sent to officials at the Republican and Democratic national committees last month, the director of the IRS's exempt organizations division, Steven T. Miller, said religious leaders are strictly prohibited from politicking as spokespeople for the church.

"Leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official organization functions, including official church publications and functions," Miller wrote.

The IRS is prevented by law from commenting on pending cases or investigations, said spokesman Anthony Burke.

Falwell has been the subject of such complaints before. In 1993, his television ministry, the Old Time Gospel Hour, agreed to pay $50,000 in tax penalties for political activity in 1986 and 1987.

URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/news/archive/2004/07/16/national1715EDT0690.DTL