Legal Group Accuses Church-State Watchdog of Covering Partisan Tracks

A Christian legal group is accusing a left-leaning church-state separation group of trying to cover their tracks after a complaint with the IRS was filed against them.

One week after Fla.-based Liberty Counsel filed the complaint against American United for Separation of Church and State (AU), the latter group sent a letter to Lois G. Lerner, director of the IRS's Exempt Organizations Division, regarding a possible violation of federal tax law committed by a church in Virginia.

"The Washington Post reported June 8 that Virginia gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran appeared at Fifth Street Baptist Church in Richmond June 7," AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn wrote in the letter, dated June 8.

"When the church invites one candidate to speak from its pulpit on Sunday before the election and that candidate is then endorsed by the church's top official, the non-partisan character of the institution has been compromised," he added.

"I urge you to investigate this matter and fully enforce the law."

This week, Liberty Counsel caught wind of AU's latest complaint and on Wednesday noted the timing and the focus of the letter.

"Liberty Counsel alleged that for several years AU has almost exclusively filed complaints with the IRS against churches whose pastors lean toward Republican rather than Democratic candidates," the legal group stated. "To cover its tracks, AU quickly filed a complaint with the IRS against the Fifth Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, for allegedly endorsing then-Democratic candidate Brian Moran during one of its services. "

In their complaint to the IRS on June 1, Liberty Counsel had accused AU of engaging in "libelous and slanderous" partisan activity. The legal group called out AU for consistently filing complaints against conservative churches and nonprofit organizations.

"Despite its knowledge of partisan activity carried on by more left leaning nonprofit organizations, AU remains silent," noted Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, in the complaint.

Staver went as far as to call AU "essentially ... an arm of the Democratic Party."

"Churches and nonprofit organizations having anything to do with conservative causes or Republican policies or candidates are targeted by AU," he added.

To prove that point, Liberty Counsel referred to AU's website, in which the group states that one of the five things that AU does is "monitor the Religious Right," calling the movement the "single greatest threat to church-state separation in America."

Liberty Counsel also revealed AU's activity over the past four years, during which the group only filed four IRS complaints and six press releases involving democratic or liberal candidates for office.

And even among the few, most - if not all - were allegedly issued in response to the late Dr. Jerry Falwell publicly pointing out the partisan pattern of AU's activities at the time.

"In response to cover itself, AU filed a handful of complaints against nonprofit organizations where Democratic candidates appeared," Liberty Counsel noted. "AU then quickly returned to its typical partisan behavior of filing partisan complaints against nonprofit organizations where Republican candidates appeared, but not those where Democratic candidates appeared."

So now that AU is again being called out, the church-state watchdog appears to be following the same pattern, according to Liberty Counsel.

"The politically partisan pattern of Americans United is clear," commented Staver in a statement Wednesday.

Staver's group also accused AU of only being interested in getting its name in the media, reporting that the watchdog group has never been successful in causing the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of any church.

AU did not respond immediately to messages left by The Christian Post regarding Liberty Counsel's claims.

The watchdog group also made no mention of Liberty Counsel's claims in their frequently updated blog.

It did, however, respond to the IRS complaint filed by Liberty Counsel last month, calling it "groundless" and "desperate diversionary tactic."

"Falwell knows full well that Americans United is rigorously non-partisan," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, referring to Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor of Liberty University and son of the late Jerry Falwell Sr.

The IRS complaint was filed by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Liberty University.