By Lawrence Morahan
CNSNews.com Senior Staff Writer
June 03, 2003
Washington (CNSNews.com) - A coalition of pro-life groups announced it is
launching a national drive to register eligible Christians to vote in the 2004
election. But a religious liberty organization warned that churches could
jeopardize their tax-exempt status if they permit the coalition's pamphlets to
be distributed at church locations.
In what they hope will be the first step to putting pro-life candidates into
public office, pro-life groups announced Monday they will distribute flyers
beginning Father's Day encouraging churchgoers to register to vote.
Voter registration drives that are non-partisan are completely consistent
with the boundaries set by law for churches and tax-exempt organizations, Fr.
Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, said at a press conference Monday.
"Our project does not aim at building up one or another particular party, nor
is it aligned with the campaign of any particular candidate. Rather, it is
rooted in the tradition of this nation that faith is not to be relegated to the
private arena, but rather plays a key role in shaping public life," Pavone said.
Priests for Life has joined the Christian Coalition of America and the
National Pro-life Religious Council to launch "National Christian Voter
Registration Sundays" on Jun. 15, Sept. 7 and Nov. 9 in 2003 and Jan. 18, 2004,
in a nationwide church liaison program.
Scott Wiggam, the national church liaison director with the Christian
Coalition, said the numbers of voting Christians has risen since the beginning
of the 1990s.
In 2000, 210 million Americans were eligible to vote; of those, 105 million
voted. A little more than 50 million eligible voters identified as "born-again,"
"observant" or "evangelical" Christians, Wiggam said. Of those 50 million, only
15 million voted.
"Obviously...we've got a little work to do and a little ways to go," Wiggam
However, before the 1990s, the Christian population was voting at a lower
percentage than the rest of the population. Today, they are voting at about the
same rate, he said.
Several thousand activists will coordinate the voter registration drive at
churches around the country. Along with printed guides, the Christian Coalition
also sends out electronic voter guides. In 2000, the organization sent out 70
million voter guides, Wiggam said.
Kirk van der Swaagh, vice president of the National Pro-life Religious
Council, said the coalition hopes eventually to see more pro-life candidates in
"The Christian mandate to 'love our neighbor as ourselves,' so central to the
church's understanding of our societal responsibilities, directs us to seek the
election of those candidates whose policies and legislative commitments will
best accord with the truth of Scripture and the traditions of the Christian
church," he said.
Robert Boston, assistant director of communications with Americans United for
the Separation of Church and State, said, however, that the material the
coalition asks churches to distribute is biased in favor of certain candidates,
usually conservative Republicans.
"The churches have a tax-exempt status that does not allow them to endorse or
oppose candidates, so they should be very wary of handing out any material
produced by organizations like the Christian Coalition or Priests for Life that
are not unbiased. I think that can get a church in trouble," Boston said.
Boston added, however, that voter registration was a good thing.
"There's a lot that a house of worship can do in this area. They can educate
voters about a candidate's stand; they can have voter forums where the
candidates come in and present their views and ask questions...but they cannot
endorse or oppose candidates or distribute material that does that, and they
need to be aware of that," he said.
Pavone said that Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, in
the past had made unfounded accusations that the voter drive was tainted with
politics, promising to monitor it closely and report violations to the Internal
"There were no such reports made simply because there were no violations. I
would expect that Barry Lynn has gotten to know us over these few years, and I
would not be surprised if he again says, 'We're going to watch closely.'
"I welcome him to do so because the closer he watches, the more credibility
we have because there will in fact not be any violations of the law," Pavone