NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A National Public Radio report –- surmising that people are being encouraged to “vote Republican” by the Southern Baptist iVoteValues.com voter registration campaign — was “misinformed and untrue,” according to a response mailed to NPR by the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s president.
Richard Land, in a June 2 letter to the executive producer of NPR’s “All Things Considered” program, Chris Turpin, noted that the May 21 edition of the program included statements by a reporter, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, “together with a sound bite from Mr. Barry Lynn, that incorrectly implied that the Southern Baptist Convention has been making questionable political statements, including a message to vote Republican, in connection with the iVoteValues voter registration campaign.”
Barry Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which regularly tangles with social conservatives over faith issues in the public arena.
Land, in his letter to NPR, recounted that the ERLC, as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity, is nonpartisan. “It does not endorse or oppose any political party or candidate. It does not take sides as to candidates or parties in any federal, state, or local election. The ERLC does not instruct individuals as to the candidates or political parties for which they should vote,” Land wrote.
“Through the iVoteValues initiative, the ERLC seeks to advance the democratic process generally by encouraging all people to be good citizens by registering, inquiring, learning, and voting,” Land said of the Internet-based campaign. “This activity appropriately avoids any candidate or party endorsement or disparagement. The ERLC works closely with legal counsel to assure compliance with regulations applicable to tax exempt organizations, including the prohibition on participating or interfering in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”
Land also noted that the ERLC, as part of the Southern Baptist Convention, “is committed to serving a needy culture with the transforming love and power of Jesus Christ. It does this by exhorting and encouraging Christians to grow in understanding and living out the teachings of Jesus at home, in their communities, workplaces, and in the public square. The iVoteValues initiative continues this mission by educating Christians on the importance of growing in their understanding of Biblical values. It also encourages connecting their values with roles and responsibilities as citizens. Consistent with its religious principles, the ERLC seeks to promote healthy democracy through encouraging informed and participating citizens.”
Land concluded his letter by stating, “We trust that NPR will in the future strive to be more accurate and careful in its reporting, and extend the professional and journalistic courtesy of prior confirmation with the source,” in referring to the lack of a call from Hagerty or an NPR fact-checker to verify her “vote Republican” assessment of the iVoteValues campaign.
Baptist Press requested comment June 8 from Turpin, the All Things Considered executive producer, but the call was not returned.
Attorneys for the ERLC also mailed a similar letter to Lynn on June 2.
“Given the implication in your statement that the iVoteValues voter registration project may be partisan in nature, we are writing to correct your misimpression, and to assure that any future statements about our client and its iVoteValues site are factually based and not misleading or defamatory,” attorneys George R. Grange II and Stephen H. King wrote.
“We trust that you will contact us directly if you have any future questions or concerns about the iVoteValues initiative,” the attorneys wrote in concluding the letter.
The May 21 NPR broadcast largely focused on Catholic Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado, who stated in a pastoral letter May 1 that Catholics who vote for politicians supportive of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research should not receive communion.
The NPR report centered on whether Sheridan’s letter could jeopardize the Catholic Church’s tax-exempt status.
Lynn, in the report, states that Sheridan “may not have crossed the line yet, but he’s dangerously close,” according to an NPR transcript.
Hagerty then states: “Lynn says he’ll be watching the bishop closely to see if he gets more specific. And he says Bishop Sheridan is hardly alone in making questionable political statements. He says consider evangelical Protestants.”
Lynn: “The Southern Baptist Convention has this ‘iVoteValues’ campaign, which encourages people to get out and vote, tells them what values -– it turns out to be the values of the religious right -– they should adopt and then actually, on its Web site, links to candidate position papers. So Protestants and Catholics are getting the same message.”
Hagerty: “That is, vote Republican….”
Land’s assertion that the iVoteValues.com effort is nonpartisan and aimed only at increasing the number of informed citizens participating in the nation’s democratic process is bolstered by his frequent statements to the media on the subject as well as verbiage on the campaign’s website that states, “The Lord alone is the Lord of the conscience. Everyone should vote their own conscience.”
The iVoteValues.com initiative is seeking to help “believers engage the culture as ‘salt’ and ‘light’ by educating them on the importance of connecting biblical values with healthy democracy,” the site says.
“We want to make sure all Americans are registered to vote and that they understand they have an obligation to participate in the process,” Land said. “I do not believe the church should be endorsing candidates, but I do believe citizens should be looking for candidates who endorse them and who endorse their values and their convictions.”