Tv Preacher Resumes Political Crusade

Pat Robertson Pushes House Bill Allowing Churches To Endorse Political Candidates

Only a month after Pat Robertson resigned from the Christian Coalition and promised to devote his time to religious ministry, the TV preacher has returned to hardball politics.           

On his Christian Broadcasting Network show today, Robertson promoted a House bill that would revise provisions of federal tax law and allow houses of worship to endorse political candidates. The measure, H.R. 2357, has been introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and has 110 cosponsors, almost all of them Republicans.

Appearing as a guest on Robertson's "700 Club," Jones urged the program's estimated one million viewers to contact their House members and pressure Rep. Bill Thomas, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, to schedule a hearing on the bill in March. Jones said the measure was drafted by the American Center for Law and Justice, the legal arm of Robertson's religio-political empire.

The push for the Jones bill comes in an election year when control of Congress is up for grabs. In recent weeks, White House political strategists have expressed concern that evangelical Christians did not vote for Bush in 2000 in expected numbers. The Jones bill and Robertson's enthusiastic support for it may be part of a move to spark GOP endorsements by conservative churches in the 2002 and 2004 elections.

Robertson made the partisan character of the Jones bill clear. Railing against the "draconian" character of federal tax law, Robertson said on the show, "As it is now, if somebody comes out and says, 'I support George Bush,' theoretically the IRS can come in and take away their tax exemption."

Robertson's attempt to change federal tax law and prod America's churches into partisan politics comes only four weeks after his Dec. 5 announcement that he was quitting as president of the Christian Coalition to push national revival and "focus on those things that will bring forth the greatest spiritual benefit."

Robertson's critics were not surprised at his quick relapse into partisan politics.

"This leopard will never change his spots," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "Robertson is as interested in winning votes for the Republicans as he is in winning souls."

During today's show, Robertson charged that Americans United has sent a "scare letter out to churches which was filled with misinformation" about involvement in politics. In fact, Americans United has simply provided accurate informational materials to church leaders about the kinds of activities that are allowed and forbidden under federal tax law.

Said AU's Lynn, "Robertson will never give up his dream of forging churches into a partisan political machine. If that dream ever comes true, it will be a nightmare for America. Both religion and government are harmed when the two are recklessly mixed."

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.

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.