Mar 2, 2010

No Liberty for Americans United

by Melinda Zosh

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., requested for the third time in three years that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigate partisan politics at Liberty University. During that same time period, Liberty Counsel and Liberty University have also asked the IRS to investigate a partisan political agenda at Americans United and plan to do so again.

Both the university and AU are tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, and “cannot endorse or oppose a candidate,” AU Senior Policy Analyst Rob Boston said.

“In my opinion, AU has only one goal — promoting the Democratic party’s platform. This is evidenced by the fact that over 95 percent of all of AU’s complaints are filed against conservative organizations. I have never heard of AU filing a complaint against some liberal university’s student newspaper for endorsing Barack Obama,” Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said in response to the complaint.

The group sent a letter to the IRS on Feb. 22 after a three-month investigation, according to Boston. The group cited articles printed in the Liberty Champion on Oct. 20 and 27, 2009, as evidence of partisan politics.

AU has filed 100 complaints against religious organizations and c3 tax-exempt institutions since 1996, said Boston, adding that they target both liberal and conservative churches, Boston said.

Most recently, AU filed a complaint against Fifth St. Baptist Church in Richmond when the pastor endorsed a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Brian Moran, from his pulpit.

However, AU’s archives show that most of their complaints target conservative organizations including the Family Research Council, James Dobson and Pat Robertson.

Community members sent AU copies of the Liberty Champion, Boston said. The Oct. 27 issue of the paper was distributed to 30,000 Lynchburg residents, and Boston said that Chancellor Falwell did this to advance his own politics.

Falwell said the newspaper was mailed to alumni, faculty, staff and others in the community because it contained articles of interest to the larger community. Liberty routinely mails the Liberty Journal to everyone in the local community for the same reason.

In another charge, Boston accused Liberty officials of pushing students to vote for Republican Scott Garrett rather than Democrat incumbent Shannon Valentine in the House of Delegates race in November 2009.

The basis for AU’s argument was not the news stories as it deemed those articles to be balanced. Its complaint of partisanship came from articles printed in the opinion section including an article by graduate assistant Mitchell Malcheff and a letter to the editor written by Republican Del. Kathy Byron. Boston also cited a voter’s guide reprinted with permission from the Family Foundation.

“AU has really painted itself into a corner with this complaint because, unless AU now files a complaint against every student newspaper in the country that contained editorials supporting candidates, then AU will have proven our claim that they are a partisan organization in violation of the law,” Falwell said. “AU has lost all credibility with this complaint because, if you review it closely, it is actually an attack on the Liberty Champion’s First Amendment rights protecting freedom of the press.”

Contact Melinda Zosh at

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