Americans United for Separation of Church and State is asking the Internal Revenue Service to examine Liberty University. Americans United contends that the school violated its tax-exempt standing when it appeared to publically support Scott Garrett, a Republican candidate for the Virginia state house.

Garrett won the election by 209 votes and now represents Liberty University’s hometown, Lynchburg, in the Virginia House of Delegates.

According to an article in the Lynchburg News & Advance, Americans United believes:

…There was evidence to support the claim that LU used the school’s official newspaper, Liberty Champion, and other resources in a partisan effort to elect Republican candidate Scott Garrett.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, called this the most “over-the-top” illegal politicking he has ever seen.

“This was an absolute, sleazy political operation,” he said. “Nothing more or less.”

As a tax-exempt nonprofit, Liberty, a fundamentalist Baptist college founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971, cannot support political candidates.

Americans United asked the IRS to investigate Liberty University last year after the school decided that it would no longer recognize the Liberty College Democrats because:

The Democratic Party Platform is contrary to the mission of LU and to Christian doctrine (supports abortion, federal funding of abortion, advocates repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, promotes the “LGBT” agenda, Hate Crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc).

Eventually the school reached a compromise and determined that both the campus Republican and Democratic clubs would become unendorsed student groups, ineligible for student funding. Both groups could, however, use the Liberty name.

In its current complaint Americans United said that a Liberty administrator “drove around campus in a truck decorated with Republican candidates’ campaign signs and an elephant made of chicken wire, urging students to vote” on Election Day. The truck was sponsored by the College Republicans.

Americans United also alleges that Liberty administrators used the school newspaper inappropriately to champion Garrett. Liberty characterized the paper’s coverage of the November election as “fair and balanced.”

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer