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
"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"
"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."