Nov 01, 2002

The Christian Coalition's 2002 "voter guides" are biased, partisan campaign materials and have no place in America's houses of worship, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

With this year's elections just days away, the Christian Coalition will be asking religious leaders nationwide to distribute campaign guides this weekend to congregations in the hopes of influencing the outcome of races nationwide.

Because federal tax law prohibits churches and other non-profit groups from intervening in partisan political campaigns, the Rev. Barry W, Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said clergy should reject the Coalition's advances.

"America's religious leaders shouldn't touch the Christian Coalition's campaign materials with a ten-foot pole," Lynn said. "The Coalition is trying to rope churches into a political machine to advance its partisan agenda. Pastors should see through the Coalition's scheme and keep their sanctuaries clear of slanted political fliers."

The Christian Coalition holds a type of tax-exempt status that allows it to endorse candidates and get involved in partisan politics within certain limits. Churches, however, are absolutely barred from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, and therefore cannot distribute campaign materials that favor some candidates over others.

As they have been for many years running, the Coalition's 2002 voter guides are stacked to favor Republican candidates. Issues such as abortion, private religious school vouchers and school-sponsored prayer -- topics the Coalition has well-known positions on -- are carefully selected by the group to help the favored candidate.

"The guides select specific issues to make the Republican a saint and the Democrat a sinner," Lynn said. "Just as importantly, the guides phrase the issues in a biased fashion, and then give misleading and sometimes wrong information. These guides don't belong in churches, they belong in the recycling bin."

The voter guide for the South Carolina race for U.S. Senate, for example, describes Democratic candidate Alex Sanders as supporting "federal gun registration and licensing of gun owners," despite the fact that Sanders opposes gun control and is a member of the National Rifle Association.

In some instances, lawmakers have slipped and accidentally acknowledged that the Coalition's materials are aimed to help influence the outcome of campaigns. At the Coalition's 2002 "Road to Victory" conference, for example, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) thanked the Christian Coalition for distributing the fliers.

"As a candidate, I could see my polling numbers shoot up as those voter guides went out," Brownback admitted, apparently unaware that the group claims the guides are non-partisan. "I appreciate it, and they work."

AU's Lynn concluded that churches that ignore federal tax law and take the Christian Coalition's advice could ultimately face legal troubles.

"These guides are clearly stacked to direct conservative Christian voters to support Republican candidates," Lynn said. "A church that distributes campaign fliers may be inviting scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service. Unfortunately, it won't be the Christian Coalition that gets in legal trouble; it will be houses of worship that are left holding the bag."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.