WASHINGTON - August 5 - Clergy would be wise to skip TV preacher Jerry Falwell's upcoming conference on tax law dealing with political activity by churches, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Falwell yesterday announced a "special summit" on "politics and the pulpit" Sept. 26-29 at Liberty University.
Americans United said Falwell is the last person clergy should turn to for advice on tax law governing politicking by tax-exempt groups. In 1993, Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour had its tax exemption retroactively revoked for the years 1986 and 1987 and the ministry was required to pay $50,000 in back taxes.
"The scriptures say, if the blind lead the blind, they both will fall into the ditch," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Or in this case, into the hands of the IRS.
"Falwell is trying to build a Republican political machine based in fundamentalist churches, and he doesn't care if he gets those congregations into tax trouble," Lynn added. "There are plenty of places where clergy can get sound advice about federal tax law. Falwell's conference isn't one of them."
In July, Americans United filed a complaint with the IRS against Jerry Falwell Ministries for sending out a Falwell message urging Americans to vote for George W. Bush and to contribute up to $5,000 to a political action committee that supports Bush and other Republican candidates.
Federal tax law forbids churches and other charities in the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt category from endorsing candidates for public office. These organizations may address moral and political issues, but they may not use their resources to support candidates.