Liberty U Seeks IRS Probe of Church-State Watchdog

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is getting a dose of their own medicine through a complaint filed against the group over their "partisan activity."

Christian legal group Liberty Counsel filed the complaint to the IRS on behalf of Liberty University this week after AU asked the government agency to review the tax-exempt status of the Lynchburg, Va.-based school.

"As a tax-exempt institution, Liberty is barred from intervening in elections or showing preference for one political party over another," AU executive director Barry W. Lynn wrote in a letter to the IRS last week.

According to Lynn's organization, the school's "banning" of the student-run College Democrats last month was "evidence of partisanship at the tax-exempt school and constituted an in-kind contribution to Republican candidates."

"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," Lynn argued.

Liberty officials, however, have repeatedly tried to clarify that the College Democrats were not "banned" and still meet on campus. They say the student-run group was "unrecognized" last month "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," said Mat Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law and chief counsel of Liberty Counsel, according to the school's newspaper.

"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. Liberty's action has nothing to do with favoring Republicans or Democrats," Staver added.

When the College Democrats had received recognition from the school last October, the club was instructed to insert two clauses into their constitution stating that they are pro-life and that they support the traditional view of marriage.

But things got stickier when the group started actively campaigning for President Barack Obama and started getting more involved with the Lynchburg Democratic Committee. After only six months, the group was informed that it could no longer be recognized 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," LU Student Affairs VP Mark Hine informed the group in an e-mail.

Though "disappointed" by LU's decision, leaders of the College Democrats have been in discussions with LU to come up with a resolution that will allow the group to once again be sponsored by LU.

Late last month, LU chancellor and president Jerry Falwell, Jr., suggested that the club affiliate itself with Democrats for Life of America, a national organization for pro-life members of the Democratic Party.

College Democrats president Brian Diaz, however, said an affiliation with the strictly pro-life group could be problematic, especially in cases where his group wants to support a candidate who is pro-choice.

"If we were to charter under the Democrats for Life organization, we would not be able to endorse or campaign for, or do anything for Barack Obama and his re-election run," Diaz told the Lynchburg News Advance.

Despite there being a slim chance that the College Democrats will receive recognition again, Liberty officials insist that the school is non-partisan and say that if there is any organization that merits an IRS probe, it's AU, which Liberty Counsel claims to have become "merely a facade for a liberal agenda and the Democratic Party."

"Churches or nonprofit organizations having anything to do with conservative causes or Republican policies or candidates are targeted by AU. But churches or nonprofit organizations having anything to do with liberal or Democratic policies or candidates go unnoticed. AU remains silent," Liberty Counsel wrote in their complaint to the IRS.

"In spite of its stated purposes, it is evident from the record that AU has launched a thinly veiled systematic attack targeting what it calls the 'Religious Right,' conservative groups and churches along with any political activity related to the conservative agenda," the legal group added.

In their response to Liberty's complaint, AU made no mention of the inaccuracies that Liberty had pointed out in their complaint but noted the "distortions, inaccuracies and outright falsehoods" in Liberty's complaint.

"Instead of launching baseless attacks against Americans United, Falwell needs to get his own house in order," Lynn argued.

As both AU and LU face a possible IRS investigation, the non-profit Christian Anti-Defamation Commission is gathering more complaint letters against AU over their "frivolous attacks" and harassments against Christians who speak out on cultural and political issues in upholding biblical values.

CADC has gone as far as to offer to Fed-Ex complaint letters on behalf of those wishing to "stand up to intimidation by Barry Lynn and Americans United."

"For too long Barry has used the IRS to harass Christian ministries," the Vista, Calif., organization states.

Since 1947, Americans United (AU)'s stated mission has been to preserve the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.

The organization's current executive director, Lynn, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.