Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged clergy to reject the Christian Coalition's biased "voter guides."
The Coalition, founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson, is asking churches to help distribute millions of voter guides in order to sway the outcome of this year's elections.
"The Coalition's driving mission is to elect favored politicians to public office," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Churches should throw the Coalition's voter guides in the trash.
"Churches are tax-exempt and may not intervene in partisan politics," Lynn said. "Churches that hand out partisan literature are asking for trouble from the IRS."
This year, Americans United has distributed over 80,000 informational letters to educate religious leaders about the requirements of federal tax law, which includes a ban on church endorsements of candidates for public office. As a result of the Americans United mailing (and similar mailings in previous years), many churches are refusing to disseminate the Coalition's partisan guides.
Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs expressed concern about Americans United's success at the Coalition's 2004 "Road to Victory" Conference in late September. She told attendees at the meeting, which took place in two congressional office buildings in Washington, D.C., that because of AU's work, many churches in 2000 refused to distribute the guides, forcing the Coalition to hand them out at "Wal-Marts and service stations."
At the conference, Christian Coalition Field Director Bill Thomson candidly admitted that the guides are intended to affect the outcome of elections. He boasted that the guides can "change an election between 5 and 7 percentage points," calling them the group's "B-2 bomber."
Americans United charges that Coalition guides are intentionally designed to appear objective, but in fact distort the candidates' records and positions.
In the presidential race, for example, 15 issues are listed. The topics chosen reflect a conservative agenda, and they are worded from a right-wing perspective such as "unrestricted abortion on demand," "educational choice for parents (vouchers)," "adoption of children by homosexuals," "affirmative action programs that provide preferential treatment" and "permanent elimination of the marriage penalty tax."
According to the Associated Press, Republican candidate George W. Bush's campaign answered a Christian Coalition questionnaire for the guides, while Democrat John Kerry's campaign did not. Despite this fact, responses are listed for Kerry for 10 of the guide's line items, while "no response" is listed for the other five.
Thus a casual reader is given the impression that Kerry actually responded to a Coalition questionnaire and opposes "permanent elimination of the death tax" and "permanent elimination of the marriage penalty tax," but has "no response" to "placing US troops under UN control" or "adoption of children by homosexuals." (Bush is listed as supporting elimination of the "death tax" and the "marriage penalty tax" and opposed to "placing US troops under UN control" and "adoption of children by homosexuals.")
In at least one case, the answer is flatly untrue. Republican candidate Bush is said to support "federal funding for faith-based charitable organizations," while Democrat Kerry is listed as having "no response." In fact, Kerry announced several weeks ago that he supports faith-based funding as long as constitutional safeguards are observed.
Said AU's Lynn, "These guides are clearly partisan propaganda. Any church that distributes the Christian Coalition's literature is advancing a political agenda and endangering its tax exemption. It is also participating in political dirty tricks, something no house of worship should be involved with."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State 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 the safeguarding religious freedom.
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.