August 4, 1999

Senators ask inquest of Americans United
___WASHINGTON (RNS)--Three U.S. senators have sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno requesting a criminal investigation into whether Americans United for Separation of Church and State has intimidated religious voters through its efforts to counter the Christian Coalition.
___"If it is true that Americans United or any other organization has attempted to disenfranchise religious voters by intimidating people of faith into not participating in the political process--thereby silencing their voices on moral issues, then all Americans should be outraged," wrote Sens. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., July 2.
___Americans United Executive Director Barry Lynn held a news conference to protest the action, calling the senators' statement a "bald-faced lie."
___"This really looks like a transparent effort to intimidate us," Lynn said.
___He said his Washington-based group informs churches and religious leaders in a non-threatening and non-partisan manner about "the legal and moral difficulties associated with mixing religion and partisan politics."
___Lynn accused religious broadcaster and Christian Coalition President Pat Robertson--whose group's request to the government for tax-exempt status recently was denied--of being the catalyst for the action.
___The coalition claims its voter guides are non-partisan, but Americans United has warned religious leaders that distributing those guides could prompt the tax-exempt status of a house of worship to be challenged or revoked.
___Laura Cox, Coverdell's press secretary, said the letter was not sent based on a request from Robertson, but because the senators believed the claims Americans United has made about the coalition were "outrageous."

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