Americans United for Separation of Church and State today announced the launch of a first-of-its-kind national campaign to educate more than a quarter million churches about the dangers of distributing voter guides from TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition.
At a Washington, D.C., press conference, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said the organization will mail letters next month to churches all over America urging them not to distribute Coalition guides.
"We plan to mail to approximately 285,000 houses of worship -- nearly 90 percent of the nation's total," said Lynn. "I am confident that every church targeted by the Coalition will receive this letter."
Americans United contends that the Coalition's guides are partisan and are deliberately stacked to favor conservative Republican candidates. The group asserts that federal tax law clearly prohibits houses of worship, which are non-profit, from distributing literature that supports one candidate over another.
"These documents are not voter guides at all," remarked Lynn. "Instead, they are partisan campaign fliers that advocate the election of certain candidates and the defeat of others."
Added Lynn, "The Coalition's 75 million voter guides don't belong in church bulletins or in the lobbies of our houses of worship. They belong at the local recycling center or landfill. Our new project is designed to ensure that they end up there."
Lynn noted that the Christian Coalition relies on churches as the only method of distribution for its guides.
"We believe our letter to churches will bring their misguided voter guide project to a screeching halt," said Lynn. "We're throwing a monkey wrench into Pat Robertson's political machine."
Christian Coalition leaders have effectively admitted that the voter guides are partisan political materials that support particular candidates.
For example, in a mailing this month to the group's supporters, Roberta Combs, executive vice-president of the Christian Coalition, described the voter guides as "the most effective tool to educate voters about candidates who deserve Christian support."
Moreover, Robertson himself acknowledged earlier this year that he intends to use the guides to help elect George W. Bush.
In a remarkable interview that aired on CNN during the primary season, before Bush had the won the GOP nomination, Robertson told Wolf Blitzer that if McCain got the Republican nomination, the group "would not put out 75 million voter guides, would not urge its membership to vote for anybody in the general election...."
>Robertson went on to say, "You know, we're not under the obligation to put out any literature for anybody."
Observed AU's Lynn, "Listen again to what Robertson said: 'We're not under the obligation to put out literature for anybody.' The problem with that statement is that Christian Coalition voter guides that are 'for' anyone cannot lawfully be distributed by churches."
The AU mailing directs religious leaders to the organization's website, where several documents relating to religion and politics have been posted. Two of the documents are detailed legal memoranda prepared by Milton Cerny and Albert G. Lauber Jr. of the Washington legal firm Caplin and Drysdale.
Both Cerny and Lauber have extensive experience in this area. Cerny was formerly chief of the Exempt Organizations Ruling Area at the Internal Revenue Service, and Lauber served a deputy solicitor general in the Department of Justice with the principal responsibility of litigating tax cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
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.