A federal court ruling on the Christian Coalition's political activities is disappointing, but not surprising, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Americans United says the decision confirms the partisan character of the Christian Coalition even though it failed to punish most of the group's partisan politicking.
Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, "This decision is disappointing, but not surprising. The courts have been lax in enforcing federal election law. Pat Robertson and his Christian Coalition have slipped through a legal loophole.
"The decision still provides plenty of evidence that the Christian Coalition is a hardball partisan political operation," Lynn added. "The judge paints a detailed portrait of the Coalition's long track record of blatantly partisan electioneering on behalf of Republican candidates."
Lynn pointed out that churches should remain very wary of the Coalition and its voter guides.
"Federal tax law is much stricter that federal election law," Lynn said. "Churches that join the Coalition's partisan political machine still risk losing their tax-exempt status."
The decision is not a total victory for the Coalition. Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled that Coalition illegally advocated the re-election of Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1994, and improperly shared the group's mailing list with Oliver North's campaign for the U.S. Senate, also in 1994. Because of these transgressions, the Christian Coalition will have to pay a "civil penalty."
However, Green ruled in favor of the Coalition on all other counts, including charges that the Religious Right group coordinated efforts with Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), President George Bush, Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) and Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.).
Green acknowledged that the Coalition's voter guides "made clear which candidates the Coalition preferred," but her decision was based on a narrow reading of federal election law.
The case, Federal Election Commission v. Christian Coalition, was originally brought in July 1996, after a unanimous bipartisan vote of the FEC commissioners. The FEC charged the Coalition with improperly coordinating its activities with Republican campaigns.
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.