Jul 01, 1997

In a July 2 letter to IRS officials, Americans United for Separationof Church and State charged that Falwell and clergy allies used the pulpitsof their tax-exempt churches to endorse Sen. Mark Earley. Falwell claimsthe church-based political crusade was the key factor that gave Earleythe GOP attorney general nomination in the June 10 Virginia primary.

"If Falwell and his clergy allies want to play hardball politicsin Virginia," said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn,in a press statement, "they ought to form a political action committee.Otherwise, they are jeopardizing their own churches' tax-exempt statusand the status of other churches whose pastors may follow their bad advice."

"Churches are supposed to be houses of prayer," continuedLynn, "not dens of political iniquity. Falwell says this tactic isa model that should be used across the country, but, in fact, it is a modelof bad legal advice and worse judgment."

Falwell was assisted in his campaign by the Rev. George Sweet, pastorof the Atlantic Shores Baptist Church in Virginia Beach. Sweet, who isEarley's pastor, sent 2,000 letters to preachers across Virginia, askingthem to promote Earley to their congregations. The letter included a "SamplePersonal Endorsement Announcement For Sunday, June 8th." (The letterswere authorized by the Earley campaign.)

AU's Lynn, in his letter to the IRS, said, "Falwell and Sweet attemptto portray their activities as falling within IRS guidelines governingpolitical activity by churches. But I believe their actions clearly violatethe prohibitions contained in the IRS Code, which imposes an absolute banon participation in campaigns for political office by exempt organizations."