WASHINGTON, July 1�A church-based voter registration project set to get under way this Sunday is part of TV preacher Pat Robertson's
Republican electioneering effort for the year 2000, and congregations should not participate, a church-state watchdog group has urged.
"Churches should not participate in this blatantly partisan
project," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "Pastors have a moral obligation not to involve their churches in political schemes
and this is clearly phase one of such a campaign.
"There's certainly nothing wrong with churches encouraging their members to register and vote," he continued. "Every American should do so.
But churches should be extremely wary of Robertson, who has made his partisanship clear.
"The evidence is overwhelming that Robertson's Coalition is an arm of the Republican Party," charged Lynn.
"Churches should issue a call to salvation, not echo Robertson's call to vote Republican."
Lynn noted that Robertson earlier this year announced a "21 Victory" Campaign to
mobilize conservative religious voters on behalf of favored candidates in the 2000 elections. Lynn said the TV preacher has indicated that the plan is intended to help Republican candidates, and noted that
during the event Robertson said that any GOP candidate would be "a lot more acceptable than Al Gore."
In a June 18 Christian Coalition press release, Robertson boasted of "meeting with GOP
Senate leadership to discuss strategy for a pro-family victory in 2000." In the release, he warned that Democratic front-runner Al Gore could "co-opt the pro-family message" if Congress does
not act on a school prayer amendment, abortion restrictions and other issues that will "ensure the support of pro-family voters."
Eleven days later, the Coalition issued another press release
touting "Citizenship Sunday," a "massive voter registration drive" in thousands of churches across the country. The project was described by Robertson as "our way of working towards
a worthy goal of turning out record numbers of conservative voters."
The next day, the Coalition issued a third press release announcing the appointment of "21 Victory" Campaign field
directors in eight states. The directors are expected to recruit county chairmen in each county and precinct captains in every precinct to "canvass neighborhoods to register, educate and mobilize
pro-family voters." Church liaisons will also be recruited to bring churches into this network so the Coalition's voter guides can be distributed.
"Pat Robertson is still up to his old
tricks," said Americans United's Lynn. "He's still trying to build a partisan political machine with churches as cogs in the apparatus. The IRS has just slapped his hand for improper politicking,
but he won't learn his lesson."
The Christian Coalition was denied tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service for engaging too heavily in partisan political activity. Robertson announced that
he planned to continue this work through two separate Christian Coalition divisions.
A Federal Election Commission lawsuit against the Christian Coalition for unlawful campaigning on behalf of
Republican candidates in the 1990, 1992 and 1994 elections is still pending in federal court.