The host of a Southern Baptist agency's radio program says a recent interview with the Rev. Jerry Falwell that includes comments about the upcoming presidential election will be aired despite concerns voiced by a group advocating church-state separation. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the "For Faith & Family" radio broadcast featuring Falwell is scheduled to air in early July. According to Baptist news services, Falwell urged the defeat of Vice President Al Gore, the presumed Democratic candidate, in the November election. "The American people, I think, sense something right now -- that we are about to lose America," Falwell said. "Ronald Reagan would not have been president unless Bible-believing Christians in 1979 and 1980 by the millions said, 'We've had enough,' and threw Jimmy Carter out and put Ronald Reagan in, to put it bluntly. "If we don't do the same thing November 7 with Mr. Gore...and get somebody in there to rebuild the moral values and fabric of this nation, we're going to be in the same mess or worse than we were in 1980." The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wrote to Land to urge him not to air the interview. "If his comments had been broadcast live, the Commission and the Southern Baptist Convention would probably not be held legally responsible for his opposition to the Gore candidacy," wrote Lynn in a
June 14 letter to Land. "However, since the program was taped for later broadcast, airing it now -- knowing of its partisan content -- could put the SBC's tax-exempt status in jeopardy." In the letter, Lynn said federal tax law prohibits tax-exempt groups from endorsing or opposing candidates running for public office, and his group is willing "to file more complaints with the IRS if necessary." "Because Falwell is a Southern Baptist pastor and prominent leader in your denomination, many listeners of the SBC-produced program would certainly conclude that his partisan agenda has the official endorsement of the Southern Baptist Convention." Land responded by saying he would not be intimidated by "threats" from Lynn. "Our normal and standard editing process will in no way be influenced by what I believe any fair-minded person would perceive to be your heavy-handed attempt to intimidate our ministry and our freedom of speech," Land wrote in a June 21 letter to Lynn. "Southern Baptists are well aware that every local Southern Baptist church is an autonomous entity, and the pastor of a local church speaks only for that church and not for the entire denomination, even if he is a 'prominent' Southern Baptist."
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