Church-State Watchdog Seeks IRS Probe Over School's Democrats 'Ban'

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is asking the IRS to review the tax-exempt status of Liberty University after the school's decision to "unrecognize" the student-run College Democrats.

In a letter to the IRS, Americans United (AU) president Barry W. Lynn said he believes Liberty University (LU) may have violated federal tax law in denying recognition to the College Democrats while extending it to a Republican organization.

"As a tax-exempt institution, Liberty is barred from intervening in elections or showing preference for one political party over another," Lynn wrote in the letter, dated Wednesday.

"By banning a Democratic club while permitting a Republican club to exist and offering funding to the latter but not the former, university officials appear to be operating in violation of federal tax law," he added. "I urge you to investigate this matter and ensure that the law is enforced."

Earlier this month, LU Student Affairs VP Mark Hine had informed the College Democrats that they could no longer be recognized by their school due to the stance of their "parent organization" and the political candidates they support.

"We are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University," Hine informed the group via e-mail.

"Even though this club may not support the more radical planks of the democratic party, the democratic party is still the parent organization of the club on campus," he added.

Since news broke of the College Democrats' change of status, there have been a number of rumors and reports claiming that the university had banned the group from campus and that its officials said a person cannot be a Christian and a Democrat – claims that Jerry Falwell, Jr., chancellor and president of the Lynchburg, Va.-based Christian school, rejected as false over the weekend.

"Apparently many journalists do not let the facts get in the way of a juicy, agenda-driven story," Falwell wrote in an Op-Ed released to the media Monday.

On Thursday, Mat Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law, reiterated Falwell's sentiments, stating that Liberty's recent action "had nothing to do with the political nature of the club" and was "solely based upon the moral issues of abortion and marriage."

"Had Barry Lynn paid more attention to the facts rather than being absorbed in his fundraising scheme, he would have realized that the Democratic club can still meet on campus. It simply cannot use Liberty's name or funds to promote abortion or same-sex marriage," he said Thursday, according to the school's newspaper.

Furthermore, LU has been holding discussions with leaders of the College Democrats to come up with a resolution that will allow the group to once again be sponsored by LU.

On Friday, Falwell suggested that the club affiliate itself with Democrats for Life of America, a national organization for pro-life members of the Democratic Party.

"Liberty will not lend its name or funds to support any group - Republican, Democrat, Independent or non-political - that supports abortion or same-sex marriage," Staver added. "Liberty's action has nothing to do with favoring Republicans or Democrats."

According to LU's news agency, Staver's legal group, Liberty Counsel, plans to file a complaint on Monday against AU on behalf of the school in response to the organization's claims.

"Americans United has a history of filing complaints like this against Liberty University and conservative churches and organizations. We are not aware of any adverse action resulting from these complaints. We've always been careful to abide by all the laws and regulations of the Internal Revenue code," Falwell commented.

Staver, meanwhile, said his legal group planned to reveal AU's long history of "biased complaints" with the IRS.

"We will point out the biased and partisan history," he said. "Americans United has never been successful in filing their baseless attacks. When they filed this most recent complaint, it was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. Now we will fight back."

Founded in 1971 by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr., Liberty University touts itself as the largest and fastest growing Christian Evangelical university in the world.

Notable alumni include evangelist Franklin Graham, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, and Christian music artists tobyMac, Michael Tait, and Phil Stacey.