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Liberty University could lose tax-exempt status after president busted admitting to crimes

Jerry Falwell Jr. posing with Donald Trump, next to a framed copy of Playboy.
Jerry Falwell Jr. posing with Donald Trump, next to a framed copy of Playboy. Photo: Twitter

Jerry Prevo, the new president of the Christian conservative and anti-LGBTQ Liberty University, was busted saying that he wants the college to work to get politicians elected, citing how he evaded “the homosexual community” for decades.

This could put Liberty’s tax-exempt status at risk; it’s a 501(c)(3) organization that’s not supposed to be involved in elections.

Related: Jerry Falwell Jr re-opens Christian university because Trump will handle coronavirus like a “CEO”

Liberty University was founded by arch-homophobe and evangelist Jerry Falwell, and his son Jerry Falwell Jr. took over after he passed away. After years of sex scandals, financial scandals, COVID-19 scandals, and eventually posting lewd pictures online, Falwell Jr. stepped down and was replaced by anti-LGBTQ extremist Jerry Prevo.

Prevo spent years as the head pastor of the Anchorage Baptist Temple in Alaska, where he worked for decades to stop a gay-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance from passing. Prevo even went so far as to spread rumors that a politician he didn’t like was gay, a move that destroyed the politician’s career in 1978 Alaska.

And he has no plans of stopping, even as he heads another non-profit organization now. Politico obtained a recording of a phone conversation between Prevo and Liberty University Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Engagement Scott Lamb about the “Standing for Freedom Center,” Liberty’s think tank.

“Are they getting people elected? Which is one of our main goals,” Prevo said about the think tank on the call. “Are they really motivating our conservative people to really get out to vote? If they are, we ought to be seeing some changes in elected officials — and we are to some extent. All I want to do is to make us more effective.”

Lamb expressed concern that the university shouldn’t be seen as pushing for particular candidates since the school’s non-profit status could be put at risk.

“I have a 501(c)(3) church,” Prevo responded. “For 30 years, I’ve known how to handle that and not get into trouble. The homosexual community has tried to take me down for at least 30 years, and they have not been successful because I know how to work the 501(c)(3).”

Lamb’s concerns were well-founded. The IRS’s website says, “All section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

Lamb was fired by Liberty earlier this month, and he’s now suing the school, saying that it was retaliating against him for raising concerns about Liberty’s alleged systematic attempts to silence rape victims on campus. Those attempts often included punishing the victims – or threatening to – with fines and accusations that they were to blame for the actions of a rapist.

Dozens of former students have come forward, saying that Liberty University would use rape survivors’ stories against them, telling them that they could be punished for violating the school’s bans on drinking, mixed-gender parties, and other rules if they filed complaints against their alleged rapists.

Lamb said that he thought Prevo was pressuring him to commit financial crimes on that call and in other conversations.

“He’s telling me to do things that we can’t do,” he said.

Steve Benen at MSNBC agrees, saying that “the evangelical university is entitled to its tax-exempt status because it’s a school, focused primarily on education and spiritual matters.”

Moreover, Prevo’s admission that he knows “how to handle” violating tax law “and not get into trouble” because he has been doing the same thing at his church for decades to attack “the homosexual community” could be something “the IRS might be interested in,” according to Benen.

This wouldn’t be the first time the IRS has gone after a religious university’s tax-exempt status. The IRS withheld the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University in the 1970s because of its racist policies that violated federal law. Bob Jones University challenged the IRS, saying that its freedom of religion was violated by the IRS, and took its case to the Supreme Court, where the IRS won.

Liberty University denies any wrongdoing.

Falwell Jr. was also involved in politics. He was one of the first major evangelical leaders to endorse Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen said last year that Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump after being blackmailed with “racy” pictures.

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