Click here to join our mailing list!
Join our mailing list!
  View Online Journal Archive
Cyber-Teddy Award
Open Directory Award

Three U.S. Senators call for criminal investigation of Americans United


WASHINGTON, July 19--Three members of the United States Senate have written to the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking a criminal investigation of Americans United for Separation of Church and State for allegedly trying to intimidate religious voters.

In a July 2 letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, Sens. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) suggest that Americans United (AU), through the group's attempts to educate churches about the dangers of mixing religion and politics, may have "attempted to disenfranchise religious voters by intimidating people of faith into not participating in the political process."

Today, AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn demanded a prompt apology and retraction from the senators for what he described as an "outrageous and wholly baseless action."

"The senators' accusation is a bald-faced lie," Lynn said. "They have, without shame or evidence, tried to enlist the top law enforcement official in our nation in a crackdown on a private organization that has done nothing wrong. The conduct of these senators in this matter has been nothing short of reckless and irresponsible."

Lynn said the call for an investigation was done at the behest of Christian Coalition President and TV preacher Pat Robertson.

"Robertson met with the Republican Senate leadership, including Sen. Coverdell, on June 17," Lynn said. "Two weeks later, Coverdell, Sessions and Helms asked the attorney general for a criminal investigation of Robertson's most persistent and effective critic, offering no evidence to support their claim. The senators' letter also emphasized their support for what they refer to as the Christian Coalition's 'lawful activities.'

"Americans United is being singled out for attack for a simple reason -- because we have the nerve to stand up to Pat Robertson and his Christian Coalition," Lynn added. "It is clear to us that the senators' request for an investigation is politically motivated. This is politics at its worst."

To support their argument, the senators cite a June 24 Congressional Quarterly Daily Monitor article about a church-based voter registration drive by the Christian Coalition. Asked about the Coalition being denied a tax exemption by the Internal Revenue Service and how this might affect the registration effort, the article quoted Lynn as saying, "Because of the tax decision, churches will be reluctant to open their doors to the Christian Coalition." The article also reported that AU may write to churches in the future about avoiding potential tax law difficulties.

Lynn observed that Sens. Coverdell, Sessions and Helms offered the CQ Daily Monitor article as some kind of "proof" of an attempt to intimidate religious voters.

"On the basis of this article and our organization's history of educational efforts about churches and politics, you have apparently extrapolated that we may be guilty of a serious federal crime," Lynn wrote in his letter to the senators. "This is patently absurd."

At this point, it is unclear if the Justice Department has plans to follow up on the senators' request and investigate AU.

"If the Justice Department does decide to investigate us, it will be very easy to clear our name," Lynn said. "While I don't know if there will be an investigation, I do know it is reckless and irresponsible for these senators to ask for a criminal investigation of a citizens' group, without any evidence, simply because a TV preacher asked them to.

"This appears to be a transparent effort on the part of Robertson and his friends in the Senate to intimidate us," Lynn concluded. "I have news for them -- it won't work."

Americans United is a national church-state watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.

[Home] [Other Current] [Project 2000] ]Media] [Commentary] [Politics] [Activist Network] [Resources] [Books]

Copyright � 1999 Online Journal.  All rights reserved.