Religion in Society

IRS Should Review Liberty Univ.'s Tax-Exempt Status

| by AUSCS

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Internal Revenue Service to review the tax-exempt status of Liberty University in the wake of the school’s decision to yank official recognition of a student-run Democratic club.

Last week, Liberty officials informed the president of the Democratic club that it is no longer eligible for university recognition, including funding through student activity fees. The goals of the Democratic Party, school officials insisted, are contrary to Liberty’s evangelical Christian outlook.

The Lynchburg, Va., school was founded by controversial TV preacher Jerry Falwell, and his son Jerry Jr. currently serves as its chancellor.

“Liberty University is a tax-exempt institution and isn’t allowed to support one party over another,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “If the school insists on pushing policies that favor Republicans over Democrats, it should have to surrender its tax exemption.”

In a letter to the IRS today, Lynn officially requested a review of Liberty’s tax exemption. The letter notes the recent flap and argues that by giving official recognition and student funding to a Republican club but not a Democratic one, Liberty has run afoul of the tax code.

Liberty’s Republican club endorses candidates for public office and works on their behalf. It can do these things with university recognition and student funding, which are denied to the Democratic club.

“Liberty University has no right to do partisan proselytizing and still retain a tax exemption,” Lynn remarked. “I urge the IRS to act swiftly to correct this injustice.”

The Falwell family has a history of misusing tax-exempt institutions for political ends. In 1993, Jerry Falwell’s “Old Time Gospel Hour” had to pay the IRS $50,000 and lost its tax exemption for the years 1986 and 1987 for engaging in political activity.

Read the Opposing Views debate, Should Churches be Tax-Exempt?