Jay Alan Sekulow, the attorney who won his fourth U.S. Supreme Court victory on free speech and religion Monday, owes much of his prominence to exposure on the nation’s largest Christian broadcasting network, the Tustin-based empire of Paul Crouch Sr.
Through his Trinity Broadcast Network and contributions totaling $3 million to nonprofit organizations controlled by Sekulow, Crouch has played a major role in boosting Sekulow’s career as the best-known attorney for the Religious Right.
“Paul provided the platform, without asking anything in return, for me to get my message out on free speech and religious liberty,” said the 36-year-old Sekulow, who was born Jewish but converted to Christianity at the age of 18.
Shortly after winning a landmark Supreme Court case on behalf of Jews for Jesus in 1987, Sekulow first appeared with Crouch and his wife, Jan, on their “Praise the Lord” talk show. He went on to make 20 to 30 guest appearances and occasionally hosted the show, which is the most-watched program on a network that attracts 13 million viewers every week, Crouch said.
Within a year of his first appearance on Trinity, Sekulow said, donations to his tax-exempt legal organization, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE), quadrupled, from $88,000 to $370,000. He attributes the increase in contributions solely to his appearances on the Trinity network.
“I was personally shocked at the reach of television, and I still am,” Sekulow recalled. “I saw that this could be a very important part of what I do in the education process. . . . I really believe the Lord used TBN to open a complete array of ministries that I work with.”
Sekulow acknowledges his debt to Trinity in his book, “From Intimidation to Victory.” Along with the Jews for Jesus organization, Sekulow said, Paul Crouch and his wife, Jan, are “the most significant people that got behind what I’m doing.”
Though Jan Crouch often refers to Sekulow as “our little Jew,” Sekulow said he does not find the couple patronizing.
“You have to take it in the context that they meant it,” he said. “They don’t mean it as an offense. They’re so excited that you’re Jewish.”
Over a five-year period, Trinity has funneled more than $3 million into a five-station, tax-exempt Christian television network, called Sonlight Broadcasting, run by Sekulow and his former law partner.
Why is it important for a constitutional lawyer to operate five television stations?
“For this lawyer, to be able to communicate the message that I feel I’m supposed to communicate, it’s important to be on as many television stations as you can be on on. And being a director of Sonlight gives you a little bit different flexibility.”
Crouch said he became aware of the attorney’s activities in 1987 after Sekulow’s involvement in litigation over the right to pass out religious literature at the Oakland Coliseum, a case that Sekulow won in a Superior Court.
Monday’s ruling is the fourth religion and free speech case that Sekulow has won at the U.S. Supreme Court level. His victories have secured the right for religious groups to pass out literature at LAX; prevented the federal government from charging anti-abortion activists with crimes using anti-Ku Klux Klan legislation; and upheld the right of a student Bible-study club to meet on the grounds of a high school.
Crouch wrote to former presidential candidate Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, urging him invite Sekulow on that network’s programs as well. Robertson had Sekulow on “The 700 Club” and subsequently hired him as chief counsel of his Virginia Beach-based American Committee on Law and Justice.
The emergence of a man raised as a Jew as the Christian Right’s foremost legal advocate, Crouch said, is part of “God’s master plan strategy to not only introduce wonderful Jewish people to Jesus Christ as Messiah, but to unite Jews and Gentiles in a religious sense.”
In 1988, Crouch decided that Sekulow should have his own show on Trinity, “Call to Action: Legal Issues Facing Christians Today.”
The half-hour program is set in a mock courtroom--a touch suggested by Jan Crouch--where Sekulow interviews lawyers, judges, professors and clients. Taped segments provide updates of pending litigation. Occasionally, even ideological opponents, like representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, appear as guests.
Sekulow pays nothing for the air time, but a phone number for contributions to the Trinity Broadcasting Network appears on the screen during the four times the show is broadcast each week.
According to Paul Crouch, a February, 1993, survey of Trinity viewers indicated that “Call to Action” was the network’s second most popular show, after Crouch’s own “Praise the Lord.”
Sekulow, his family--including the family dog Bagel--and “Call to Action” are also featured frequently in Trinity’s glossy newsletter. During the network’s semiannual “Praise-athon” fund-raiser in May, the lawyer made extensive, on-air appeals for the network.
At the same time Crouch was helping Sekulow become a well-known on-screen presence, he was also making him an off-screen power in broadcasting. As he has with others who have their own shows on the Trinity network, Crouch has helped Sekulow begin his own television empire, simultaneously extending Trinity’s reach and influence by beaming its programming over his stations.
Sekulow controls the Sonlight Broadcasting System, which he established in 1989 along with Crouch’s son, Paul Jr. Sonlight initially purchased three television licenses for $2 million, according to documents filed with the IRS.
Through 1991, Trinity had poured more than $3 million into Sonlight, according to the company’s most recent filing with the IRS. In 1991, the network gave $150,000 to Sonlight’s Hendersonville, Tenn., outlet.
The same IRS documents reveal that in 1991 Trinity donated $77,000 to Sekulow’s Atlanta-based, tax-exempt legal firm, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE). Among CASE’s grants that same year, was $1,350 to Sonlight, according to the IRS documents.
A tax-exempt company, Sonlight has full-power stations in Mobile, Ala., where “Call to Action” is now taped; Holly Springs, Miss.; Montgomery, Ala.; Hendersonville, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn. Sonlight has acquired its fifth full-power television license for Chattanooga, Tenn., joining the 10 low-power stations it owns.
Stuart Roth, who was a partner with Sekulow in an Atlanta law firm that went bankrupt, now runs Sonlight Broadcasting, drawing an annual salary of $60,000 in 1991. While Crouch and Sekulow were appearing in front of the camera, Roth was upstairs negotiating terms of Sonlight’s sale of air time to Trinity with network executives.
When Sonlight’s newest station went on the air in Nashville on Feb. 3, 1993, Crouch marked the occasion by originating “Praise the Lord” from the facility. Decked out in glittering, rhinestone-studded, “Music City” duds, Crouch draped his arms around both Sekulow and Roth.
Looking toward Sekulow’s next appearance before the Supreme Court, Crouch compared Sekulow to the biblical Jewish hero who slew Goliath in his youth and became the greatest king of Israel.
“Pray for our little David here, will you?” he asked.