RICHMOND, Va. – Beset by groups questioning his ministry's tax-exempt status for urging President Bush's re-election, the Rev. Jerry Falwell (search) will hold a seminar next month to train conservative pastors "not to be intimidated by left-wing thugs."
Falwell's weekly newsletter invites conservative clergy to a "Politics and the Pulpit" conference Sept. 26-29 at Liberty University in Lynchburg. Falwell is the school's founder and president.
"Because this is an election year and because of the controversy over the right of churches to be involved in moral and social issues, we will have constitutional attorneys there to explain to pastors what they may and may not do," Falwell told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The Campaign Legal Center and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (search) have alleged in complaints filed with federal agencies that Falwell improperly engaged in politics by endorsing Bush in a newsletter published on his Web site, falwell.com.
Churches that go too far in advocating for or against a political party or candidate jeopardize their Internal Revenue Service (search) religious tax exemption.
"We're going to be careful not to break the law, but we are also going to be careful not to be intimidated by left-wing thugs, not to let them intimidate evangelical pastors into silence," Falwell said.
Robert Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, said Falwell is "interpreting the law as he wishes it was, not as it is."
"Any pastor who would accept legal advice in this area from Jerry Falwell is playing with fire," Boston said, noting that Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour" television ministry in 1993 paid $50,000 in back taxes for improper political activity in 1986 and 1987.