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Title: Watchdog group questions Cruz appearance at Liberty University
Source: Lynchburg News & Advance
URL Source: http://www.roanoke.com/news/politic ... bf-59d3-9acd-898aaf1f18bd.html
Published: Mar 30, 2015
Author: Alicia Petska
Post Date: 2015-03-30 13:55:07 by Willie Green
Keywords: None
Views: 751
Comments: 3

The watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State is calling foul on Sen. Ted Cruz’s appearance at Liberty University last week and pointing to it as an example of the need for renewed IRS enforcement.

In a letter to the IRS, Americans United said Cruz’s speech at an LU convocation on March 23 amounted to a campaign rally that students had to attend or risk being fined.

This is “precisely the sort of activity that should warrant an investigation into the school’s tax status,” reads the letter signed by Americans United Executive Director Barry Lynn.

“It sure looks and smells and walks and feels like an endorsement to us,” Lynn added during an interview.

LU leaders dismissed the accusations from the D.C.-based group — which the school has sparred with before — and said numerous steps were taken to ensure Monday’s visit stayed within the bounds of the law.

The school’s tax-exempt status prohibits it from making political endorsements or otherwise engaging in campaign activity.

Cruz, R-Texas, officially announced his candidacy for president Monday and gave his first major speech at LU’s student convocation.

LU representatives took issue with characterizing the event as a campaign rally or even a campaign announcement.

“Every effort was made to make sure it was not a campaign event. It was a Liberty convocation,” said President Jerry Falwell Jr., adding convocation is an educational forum for students and features a variety of speakers, including politicians.

LU General Counsel David Corry said Cruz’s camp wasn’t allowed to bring in campaign signs, buttons, banners or other paraphernalia.

Cruz wasn’t allowed to recruit volunteers or solicit donations, Corry added, and had to declare his candidacy for president before he spoke, which he did via Twitter shortly after midnight that morning.

“The event was a speech. It wasn’t an announcement of candidacy for the Republican nomination of president,” Corry said. “… We were clear with the folks from the campaign in advance that this would not be an announcement.”

Falwell introduced Cruz on Monday and took care to say the school wasn’t endorsing candidates.

"As you know, Liberty University does not support or oppose candidates for public office, and Sen. Cruz's appearance here should not be interpreted by any as an endorsement of his candidacy,” Falwell told students.

Other major party candidates who wish to speak at LU will be afforded the same opportunity and treatment, officials said.

“If you understand all the information and you have the full context, you’ll realize this isn’t favorable treatment, this isn’t support,” Corry said.

“We hope every candidate from a major party would think so highly of Liberty University as to want to come here and talk to our student body. That’s great for the university, it’s great for the students, it’s great for education and great for increasing political involvement and awareness, and that’s what we’re about.”

Americans United contended the disclaimer in Falwell’s opening remarks was a perfunctory move that belied the steps LU took to give Cruz a beneficial platform.

“Indeed, it appears that Sen. Cruz chose Liberty because it offered him certain advantages, and Liberty was more than happy to work in coordination with the senator to assist his cause,” Lynn wrote in his letter to the IRS dated Thursday.

He added Cruz wanted to appear as if he had the support of thousands of students at the world’s largest Christian university, and LU obliged by making attendance at his appearance mandatory.

All LU convocations are mandatory for on-campus students regardless of the speaker. Truancy can result in a $10 fine.

Falwell said convocations, much like classes, are required because they’re considered part of the school’s educational program.

Speakers at the thrice-weekly gatherings have ranged from business leaders to entertainers to pastors. Politicians appear on the schedule often.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, was the scheduled speaker Monday before Cruz took over the date. LU, at one point hoping to accommodate both elected officials, offered to push Cruz’s appearance back to later in the day, Falwell said.

If that had happened, he said, the event wouldn’t have been mandatory because it would fall outside the heading of a convocation. McAuliffe’s office ultimately chose to postpone the governor’s visit.

LU and Americans United have clashed before. The watchdog group filed three complaints with the IRS against the school from 2008 to 2010.

LU filed a counter-complaint accusing Americans United of engaging in improper partisan activity by targeting conservative groups.

Both said at the time nothing came of the complaints.

Last week’s letter from Americans United isn’t a formal complaint. Rather it’s a broader call for IRS action against churches and other nonprofits that flout the ban on politicking.

IRS enforcement has waned amid a targeting scandal, congressional inquiries and the agency’s 2009 defeat in a court case with a Minnesota church whose pastor endorsed a congressional candidate. The church successfully argued the resulting IRS audit wasn’t initiated by a properly designated official.

Some pastors are now openly defying the federal restrictions as part of a growing national movement known as Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The end game of the campaign is to mount a legal challenge to the IRS rules, which organizers believe are unconstitutional.

At the same time, the IRS faced a lawsuit from an atheist group seeking to compel the agency to resume enforcement action. The Freedom from Religion Foundation said the agency was ignoring complaints against churches. The case was settled last summer with the IRS affirming it would continue monitoring churches.

Lynn urged the IRS to put an end to the enforcement moratorium, arguing it was only creating confusion and emboldening entities like LU.

“I think it’s a discredit to the function and role of religious institutions to make them essentially cogs in the political machine of any party or any individual,” he said, calling it “one of the single most corrupting influences on the electoral process.”

Falwell contended Americans United isn’t a credible group and called its letter nothing more than a “fundraising ploy.”

“It’s just a way to activate their donor base and make their donors think they’re making a difference,” he said. “But I don’t think anyone takes them seriously.”

There is nothing unusual or illegal about a candidate speaking at a college, officials said, and LU is confident it’s in full compliance with the law.

“This is just one more candidate speaking at a Liberty convocation,” Falwell said. “It’s happened many times in the past. I think it just drew a little more attention this time because he had announced his candidacy that day. But we were very careful to make sure all the rules were followed.”

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#1. To: Willie Green (#0)

"The watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State is calling foul ..."

I'm glad to see this watchdog group on their toes.

I'm sure they'll be equally eager to investigate black churches which advocate certain candidates and any Democrats speaking at black churches.

misterwhite  posted on  2015-03-30   14:47:00 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#2. To: Willie Green (#0)

Wilie, you ignorant slut.

Liberty University has three "school assemblies" like this per week. Sometimes with speakers, sometimes not. Missing these without an excused absence can result in a $10 fine.

LU has operated this way for years and will continue to do so. And they might get another presidential campaign announcement or two this year as well.

Tooconservative  posted on  2015-03-30   15:24:55 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#3. To: Willie Green (#0) (Edited)

Sen. Cruz's appearance here should not be interpreted by any as an endorsement of his candidacy,” Falwell told students.

Falwell is ready for Wacko Bird Hillary, but doesn't want to lose his 501c3 tax exempt status by saying so.

The D&R terrorists hate us because we're free, to vote second party

"We (government) need to do a lot less, a lot sooner" ~Ron Paul

Hondo68  posted on  2015-03-30   15:36:43 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

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