- (Photo: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)
It’s nothing new for Jay Sekulow – the newspaper article published yesterday in The Tennessean accusing the Christian lawyer and radio show host of enriching himself at the expense of donors to two nonprofit organizations for which he is the principal officer.
He was the subject of a similar article in 2005 by Legal Times, which accused him of building “a financial empire” that “supports a lavish lifestyle – complete with multiple homes, chauffeur-driven cars and a private jet.”
Sekulow has found himself under increasing scrutiny over the past two decades – financial and otherwise – as he has prevailed in a number of noteworthy U.S. Supreme Court cases that advanced the cause of religious freedom.
They include precedent-setting cases in which the high court protected the free-speech right of pro-life demonstrators, safeguarded the constitutional rights of religious groups to have equal access to public facilities, and ensured that public school students could form and participate in religious organizations (including Bible clubs) on campus.
The two organizations mentioned by The Tennessean, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, which Sekulow founded in San Francisco, and the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson and based in Virginia Beach, Va., have parlayed Sekulow’s courtroom victories into success with donors.
That success, The Tennessean reported, in an article republished in USA Today, “has come with significant financial benefits.” It estimates that CASE and ACLJ – which it refers to as “charities” – have paid out more than $33 million since 1998 to Sekulow and family members who work for the organizations.
The newspaper painted a portrait of luxurious living by Sekulow and his family members on the $2.5 million a year they earned from CASE and ACLJ over the past 13 years. But the only real extravagance that turned up in the financial records was $2.7 million in jet lease payments, which worked to little more than $200,000 a year.
Attorney Sekulow does own multiple homes, as the Tennessean verified. But none of the three – a $655,000 home in Franklin, Tenn., a $690,000 home in Norfolk, Va., and a $226,800 home in Waynesville, N.C. – can be considered mansions.
Be that as it may, the newspaper found at least one known figure in the Christian community willing to criticize Sekulow, at least indirectly.
“If you read the New Testament,” said John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, a Christian civil rights organization, “the founder of Christianity said, ‘I have no place to lay my head.’ I am aghast at modern evangelism and the money.”
Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Philanthropy Institute, a watchdog group, told the Tennessean that it’s obvious the “Sekulows are talented and very effective” in conducting the legal work for which they are paid by CASE and ACLJ.
He urges that they change their business practices, merging CASE and ACLJ, and creating a new board of directors for the combined organizations with a majority of non-family members.
That would satisfy Borochoff’s watchdog group, but probably not Sekulow’s critics who either think he’s overcompensated for the legal work he has done as principal officer of CASE and ACLJ or simply oppose the positions the organizations have taken on issues of religious liberty.