In the July 1 editorial, Falwell stated, "For conservative people of faith, voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush. The alternative, in my mind, is simply unthinkable. To the pro-life, pro-family, pro-traditional marriage, pro-America voters in this nation, we must determine that President Bush is the man with our interests at heart. It is that simple." Falwell also asked for donations to a political action committee headed by conservative public interest figure Gary Bauer, American Values.
Lynn argued that Falwell had disseminated the message in violation of tax rules, which restrict tax-exempt religious groups and charitable organizations from engaging in politics. He said in a press conference, "I certainly hope that this sends a clear message that religious organizations have got to operate within the federal tax laws restricting partisan politicking. And I think the message is that the campaign has been reckless in its approach to churches, especially trying to lure them into political activities."
Although most people are not aware of it, the IRS guidelines do not preclude all partisan endorsements from religious organizations or their leaders. However, such political involvement is greatly proscribed, can be only a small fraction of the activity and expense of the organization, and must meet other stringent federal guidelines. As a private citizen, Falwell is free to endorse whomever he wishes as his personal opinion. Falwell responded to Lynn's accusations by saying he fell well within the IRS restrictions, noting that the message in his e-mail and repeated on his website both came from his affiliated tax-exempt lobbying organization, Liberty Alliance, not his religious organization.
He explained, "I support President Bush. I support him on Sunday mornings from the pulpit where it doesn't cost the church or anybody anything. I make it very clear, just like at most African-American churches and many liberal churches, that as a tax-paying citizen I vote. And I tell people who I vote for." He indicated that he and Liberty Alliance exercise their constitutional freedom of speech in a variety of forums and on a variety of topics, but that his non-profit, tax-exempt religious organizations as such do not endorse particular candidates or election issues. He accused Lynn and others like him of trying to frighten religious leaders away from standing up for the values important to people of faith and the candidates who promote or protect those values. The conservative media organization NewsMax noted, "Because of Mr. Falwell's high profile, just raising the issue against him again this year may have a dampening effect on other ministers' activities during the fall election."
According to NewsMax, "Corwin Smidt, a political science professor at Calvin College who oversaw a survey of pastors during the 2000 election, said most members of the clergy were reluctant to make political statements even outside of church for fear of alienating some members of their congregations." Smidt concluded from his survey that "about 5 percent of all pastors and about 15 percent of African-American pastors said they had endorsed a candidate for public office from the pulpit."
The dispute between Lynn and Falwell is whether or not Falwell's endorsement more or less fits the pattern of, for example, former Vice President Al Gore speaking before and receiving a large contribution from a Buddhist Temple or the Rev. Jesse Jackson giving a campaign speech in an African-American church service.
The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26