A propensity toward prevarication seems to run in the Falwell family.
Americans United staffers used to repeatedly note that the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. once preached a sermon in which he said, "I hope to live to see the day, when, as in the early days of our country, there won't be any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!"
Perhaps afraid of public reaction to this outrageous statement, Falwell flatly denied that he ever said any such thing.
In response, Americans United rounded up a copy of America Can Be Saved!, a book of the bombastic TV preacher's sermons that included the exact quote. During a Fox News appearance with Falwell in April of 1998, AU staffer Rob Boston again noted the quote and cited the exact source.
In a breath-taking act of deceit, Falwell, replied, "That book was discredited years ago. We did not print that book. Someone like you did that.... I had nothing to do with it."
In fact, the book was produced by The Sword of the Lord Publishers, a fundamentalist Christian publishing house in Tennessee. We called the publisher, and he confirmed that the work was prepared with Falwell's full cooperation. Falwell even wrote the introduction.
Falwell Sr. also lied about his tax exemption.
During a July 2, 2004, appearance on CNBC, Falwell defended the George W. Bush campaign's efforts to enlist the help of "friendly congregations" and accused AU of trying to muzzle religious conservatives. In response, AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn noted that Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour" lost its tax exemption for 1986 and '87 after the IRS determined that the ministry was used for partisan political purposes.
"Never!" Falwell shouted. "Never. Never. Not one minute. Not one second. You are wrong.... Never one second did we lose our tax exemption." He later added, "You are telling a lie right now, Barry."
A few days later, on the July 16 broadcast of Fox News Network's "The Big Story With John Gibson," Falwell stated, "The fact is that 'Old Time Gospel Hour,' or any other ministry with which I've been associated has never lost its tax exemption."
This, of course, was a bald-faced lie.
Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour" was investigated over a four-year period by the IRS for illegal political activity. In 1993, Falwell had to pay the IRS $50,000 in back taxes, and the TV ministry's tax exemption for the years 1986 and 1987 was retroactively revoked.
Now, it seems, Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. has taken up his late father's dishonesty habit.
Americans United filed a complaint with the IRS yesterday about Liberty University's decision to revoke the official status of the LU student Democratic club, while continuing to give student funds and official status to the student Republican club. Such partisanship, AU contended, seems to violate the school's nonpartisan tax-exempt status and give an in-kind contribution to GOP candidates.
Falwell Jr. responded – not by correcting the mistake – but by attacking AU.
Americans United, he told the Lynchburg News & Advance, is "a Democratic front group."
"We are planning to file a complaint against AU," Falwell said.
"AU seems to only file complaints against other 501(c)(3) groups that don't support AU's liberal agenda," Falwell said.
The fact is, Americans United has been scrupulously non-partisan in its complaints to the IRS about partisan politicking by religious groups. When we get credible evidence of improper activity, we act – regardless of the political affiliation of the candidate in question.
Is Falwell not aware of AU's 2008 complaint against the Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ for hosting candidate Barack Obama and for allowing its pastor to endorse the Democratic presidential nominee? Or that AU filed a complaint about the General Baptist State Convention for inviting Michelle Obama to give a campaign speech at its meeting? Or that AU filed complaints against three Memphis churches for endorsing Democratic mayoral candidates in 2007?
Heck, AU even reported the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple for hosting a fundraiser for Democratic candidate Al Gore way back in 1996.
As a matter of fact, AU's first venture into this issue came in 1988 when we opposed a move by Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson to pass the plate for his campaign in churches during Sunday services.
Churches, church schools and other tax-exempt non-profits should play by the rules. And leaders of religious institutions should tell the truth.