February 2004 Church & State | People & Events

Virginia car dealers trying to escape a tax on inventory have found a new friend willing to help them for a price: the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Amherst County, Va., has a law requiring business owners to pay a tax on all inventory held on site on Jan. 1. For car dealers, who keep large numbers of expensive vehicles, the tax can easily amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

Eager to duck the fees, some dealers arranged to temporarily rent space in an empty parking lot at Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg. The school is inside the city limits, making it beyond the reach of Amherst County tax agents.

Ronald Godwin, president of Jerry Falwell Ministries, refused to tell the Lynchburg News & Advance how much the dealers paid Falwell but added, "There will be some remuneration to Liberty University. We have a lot of empty parking lots, and these guys wanted to use them."

One dealer, John Brockman, who sells Chevys, moved about 100 vehicles to Falwell's property, avoiding about $10,000 in taxes. John Turner, a former local politician who represents the car sellers, said several hundred cars were parked in the Liberty lot over the holiday. Turner said he understood that the dealers paid Falwell about five dollars per car per day to park there.

Meanwhile, Falwell continues to expand his operations in Lynchburg. In 2002 Falwell purchased an abandoned industrial site and announced plans to expand Liberty University. Now some members of the city's zoning commission say Falwell circumvented normal procedures to get the zoning classification he sought.

Planning Commission Chairman Wayne Dahlgren told the News & Advance that when the Commission balked at his original zoning request, Falwell and his lawyers went directly to the city council, which agreed to his requests.

"The city council and city manager illustrated a strong lack of confidence in the Planning Commission" Dahlgren charged. "I think they completely circumvented the planning process."

In other news about the Religious Right:

TV preacher Pat Robertson declared religious war during a visit to Israel in December.

"The entire world is being convulsed in a religious struggle," Robertson told one audience. "Oh, the struggle is whether Hubal, the Moon God of Mecca, known as Allah, is supreme, or whether the Judeo-Christian Jehovah God of the Bible is supreme."

Robertson called Islam a "fanatical religion intent on returning to the feudalism of eighth-century Arabia" and called for the "elimination" of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Pat Robertson's record of controversial and extreme rhetoric is about to get some recognition. Editors of The Door magazine, a journal of satire produced by evangelical Christians who are not fans of Robertson and other televangelists, plan to name the TV preacher a "Lifetime Loser" in the March-April issue.

The issue will feature five articles critical of Robertson. Single copies can be purchased at Border's and Barnes & Noble or by calling The Door at (214) 827-2625 or visiting www.thedoormagazine.com.

The Christian Coalition berated former President Bill Clinton for his extramarital affair with a White House intern, but recent revelations that late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) fathered a child out of wedlock with an underage household servant are no big deal to the group.

"From a moral standpoint, yes, what happened was wrong," Roberta Combs, Coalition president, remarked. "That's not the traditional family. That's not how it's supposed to be. But we're not going to sit around today and criticize Strom. He's helped so many people. He's touched so many lives."

In December, Essie Mae Washington-Williams announced that Thurmond was her father, a fact that was also acknowledged by his family. The late senator had a relationship with Washington-Williams' mother, Carrie Butler, in 1925 when the girl was in her teens and Thurmond was 22. At the time, Butler was working in his family's house as a maid. She gave birth at age 16, but her child was sent to live with relatives in Pennsylvania.