Network Must Give Up Documents Detailing Christian Coalition Links

Article excerpt

The Christian Broadcasting Network must give federal officials copies of documents that detail its relationship with the Christian Coalition, a federal judge has ruled.

The Virginia-based ministry must turn over 38 documents to the Federal Election Commission by noon Monday, U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Friedman ruled Thursday in Norfolk. The documents, which may detail joint business dealings between the supposedly separate organizations, will be part of a 2-year-old federal government lawsuit against the Christian Coalition.

CBN "is supposedly a religious ministry, not a political ministry," said Joe Conn, spokesman for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "If there was a relationship between CBN and the Christian Coalition, that raises some serious legal questions."

The documents have not yet been made public, but according to a summary in court records, they detail how the two organizations shared resources, including an airplane and employees, and air time on CBN's radio stations and cable television channel.

The FEC sued the coalition in 1996, saying that the Christian group's voter guides and educational efforts between 1988 and 1994 were in fact explicit efforts to help Republican candidates.

The coalition is not a political action committee, so it does not have to file campaign finance reports that detail its income and expenses. But that also means it cannot donate money, time or resources to specific candidates, nor may it coordinate its education efforts with candidates.

The Christian Coalition sharply disputes the FEC claim, saying the organization merely engages in voter education, as allowed under federal law. Spokesman Arne Owens said the voter guides are nonpartisan, including Republicans and Democrats alike who agree with Christian positions, and the guides do not urge voters to pick any specific candidates.

"We view the FEC case against us, and what they are doing, as a threat to our free speech rights and the free speech rights of all Americans," he said. …