Group sics IRS on Falwell Secularists say he campaigns from pulpit.

Associated Press/July 17, 2004

Richmond, Va. -- A religious watchdog group claims Jerry Falwell has violated his church's tax-exempt status by endorsing President George W. 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 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."

The e-mail appears on the Jerry Falwell Ministries Web site and includes a link to the contribution Web site for the Campaign for Working Families.

Falwell said yesterday he was expressing his personal opinion and his Web site carried the newsletter as an "op-ed piece." He said he frequently voices his political opinion from the pulpit but always qualifies it as a statement from a private citizen.

Jerry Falwell Jr., Falwell's son and church attorney, said the ministries' Web site is registered and paid for by a tax-exempt organization Liberty Alliance, which is legally permitted to do some political lobbying.

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 Miller, said religious leaders are strictly prohibited from politicking as spokespeople for the church.

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.

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