TV preacher Pat Robertson today unleashed a vicious attack against Americans United for Separation of Church and State for opposing church participation in the Christian Coalition's voter guide program.
Robertson, who founded the Coalition and serves as its chairman, aimed his fire at a letter Americans United Executive Director Barry Lynn sent to pastors nationwide about the legality of the voter guides. Lynn, an attorney and United Church of Christ minister, told clergy that distribution of the biased Coalition guides could result in revocation of a church's tax-exempt status.
"Barry Lynn is lying," said Robertson on his nationally syndicated "700 Club" program. "It's just that simple....This man, as Jay [Sekulow] said, is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He is not what he pretends to be."
Responded AU's Lynn, "This is a new low for Pat Robertson. He is now resorting to outright falsehoods and vicious attacks."
During the TV show, Robertson and his top attorney, Jay Sekulow, blasted Lynn and Americans United, charging that the group is a front for the American Civil Liberties Union and wants to "silence" churches.
Robertson also questioned Lynn's religious affiliation, charging that Lynn said he was a Unitarian-Universalist minister during a visit to Virginia Beach. Robertson noted that Unitarians "don't believe in the deity of Jesus."
"I realize Robertson is angry that we are derailing his plan to politicize churches," Lynn continued, "but this overreaction is appalling, especially for a man who claims to represent Christianity."
Lynn said Americans United has conducted a national campaign to educate clergy about federal tax law and to warn churches that they face possible IRS scrutiny if they distribute Christian Coalition voter guides.
"We've received a huge response to our educational campaign," said AU's Lynn. "That's why Robertson has stooped to the level of name-calling and false charges. We won't let it stop us from getting the truth out."
During Robertson's television discussion with Sekulow, the TV preacher said that Coalition voter guides, "although we can't put them out here, nevertheless are perfectly benign under the laws of the IRS for churches to distribute."
"The 'here' was apparently a reference to CBN," noted AU's Lynn. "CBN has the same tax-exempt status as houses of worship. If CBN can't handle the Coalition's voter guides, then churches certainly cannot either."
Americans United says the Coalition guides are clearly stacked to favor Republican candidates. (The Coalition has been sued by the Federal Election Commission for illegal politicking on behalf of Republican candidates.) Under federal tax law, churches are not permitted to intervene in political campaigns or distribute such biased material.
Americans United issued the following response to the specific charges leveled on today's "700 Club" by Robertson and attorney Jay Sekulow. These include:
* Asserting that Americans United is a "front group" for the American Civil Liberties Union. Fact: AU has no ties to the ACLU.
* Misstating Lynn's religious credentials and asserting that Lynn was once a Unitarian-Universalist minister. Fact: Lynn was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 1973. He has never been a Unitarian-Universalist. (It is worth noting that a recent Coalition mass mailing to church leaders called Lynn a "so-called Christian minister.")
* Claiming that Lynn and Americans United are "trying to silence churches around this country" and stop them from speaking out on social issues. Fact: AU supports the right of churches to address moral/political issues. But the organization agrees with the IRS that churches may not endorse candidates or distribute biased voter guides.
* Calling Lynn's assertion that the tax-exempt status of Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network was revoked retroactively for improper politicking "an absolute lie." Fact: It is a matter of public record that the IRS took this action against CBN March 16. The tax agency yanked the group's tax-exempt status retroactively for 1986-87 and required the organization to make a "significant payment" as penalty.
* Accusing Americans United of not complaining when Jesse Jackson raised money in black churches for his presidential campaign in January of 1988. Fact: Americans United filed a formal complaint with the IRS about the incident.