I can see both sides on this issue (a trait that I think most of the news media is missing). On one hand, Liberty is a private institution, which gives it the power to make decisions without governmental intervention. Just so we are clear, I copy and pasted the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Under the “freedom of speech” part of the amendment, “A private authority figure may reserve the right to censor their subordinate’s speech, or discriminate on the basis of speech, without any legal consequences. For example, per the at will employment doctrine, an employee may be fired from their occupation for speaking out against a politician that the employer likes,” according to Wikipedia.
Liberty University is a private institution. This means that it has the authority to allow or prohibit the way that free speech is displayed on its campus. For example, the theater department has not put on a production of the Vagina Monologues because that would violate the Liberty Way, the school’s code of conduct. Students are not allowed to express themselves through profane language or T-shirts that advertise for Budweiser beer without receiving at least 18 reprimands and paying $250. Students who choose to attend Liberty are choosing to abide by the rules that are set in place. The rules are not being forced on them. They can leave the school, go to Sweet Briar College down the road and do whatever they want.
Liberty is also very clear on the issues it stands for: it is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, among other things. It is unabashedly “politically incorrect,” and its founder, the late Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr., epitomized this with his sermons and comments about 9/11, gay marriage and global warming, just to name a few of his favorite hot-button topics.
Because Liberty is protected under the Constitution as a private institution, Liberty officials have the right to withdraw support from groups that represent views that oppose those of the school. While the LU Democrats Club (LUDC) said that their constitution supports pro-life ideals and traditional marriage, the party that they affiliate themselves with does not. This is why Liberty decided to withdraw funding from the club, which was only about $300-400 a year.
The club’s staff adviser, Maria Childress, is also an employee with the school as the honors program secretary. She is a proud liberal, and has had no qualms misconstruing the situation in her interviews with the press. Her comments, along with the general media’s ability to conveniently leave out certain facts, have sent this story flying wildly into left field. For example, Childress told the media that Mark Hine, the Liberty official who was in charge of putting the club on hold, said that a person cannot be a Democrat and a Christian at the same time. However, she conveniently forgot that that comment was a sarcastic barb that she threw at Hine, which he immediately refuted. Because of her negligence and/or desperate need for media attention, the story was spun out of control.
Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. responded to Childress’ accusation and the media’s scrutiny in a press release on May 28.
“Dr. Hine reminded [Childress] that it was actually her who threw the sarcastic statement (‘You can’t be a Christian and a Democrat?’) at him a week ago, to which Dr. Hine at that time immediately responded by saying it would be ridiculous to imply such or to believe that one could not be a Democrat and a Christian,” Falwell said. “Dr. Hine has been subjected to ridicule in the national press for a statement he did not make and, in fact, refuted when [Childress] suggested it. [Childress] did not challenge Dr. Hine’s recollection of their conversation one week before” (emphasis mine).
Did not challenge? That sounds like she knew what had been said. She just chose to ignore it for the sake of a great story. I would be surprised if Childress is employed much longer at Liberty. Her attitude, at least what has been portrayed in interviews and press releases, does not seem to be one of cooperation and compromise.
On top of all this, negotiations have come to a standstill because Childress refuses to issue a public apology for her incorrect statements.
“Liberty University officials met with three members of the College Democrats and [Childress] on Wednesday to review actions taken in the controversy that has garnered national media attention in the last week. At the crux of the discussion were statements made to the press by the [Childress] — statements the administration says did not explain the situation in enough context for the media to report accurately on the action taken by LU officials to drop endorsement of the group as a Liberty University club. At the meeting, LU officials urged [Childress] to issue a public apology based on information given to the press implying that LU had banned the Democrat Club and that the club could not meet on campus, when in fact it was given full rights to meet on campus just a few days earlier,” according to the May 28 press release.
The other interesting thing to note is that the College Republicans club on Liberty’s campus does not receive school funds, either, according to Brian Colas, a former Liberty Student Government Association president.
“For what it’s worth, the College Republicans, along with every other political club on campus, receive no funding from the school – unless things have changed in the past year,” Colas said in a Facebook comment.
Even though Liberty is pro-life, it has not endorsed student-led pro-life clubs. I know this from personal experience, because I was involved in such an organization my freshman year. We did our own promotions, sold our own T-shirts, invited guest speakers and booked our own venue, all at our own expense. Is Liberty being partial to groups that share only their views? No. Those groups have to work, too.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Falwell has made an exception for the LUDC. According to Liberty’s student organizations policy, “No student club or organization shall be approved, recognized or permitted to meet on campus, advertise, distribute or post materials, or use University facilities if the statements, positions, doctrines, policies, constitutions, bylaws, platforms, activities or events of such club or organization, its parent, affiliate, chapter or similarly named group (even if the similarly named group is not the actual parent, affiliate or chapter) are inconsistent or in conflict with the distinctly Christian mission of the University, the Liberty Way, the Honor Code, or the policies and procedures promulgated by the University” (emphasis mine). However, Falwell has agreed to continue to let the students meet on campus and operate as an independent group, which gives them more freedom than an endorsed club.
What it comes down to is, certain members of the LUDC and Childress have been milking the situation to satiate their appetite for media attention and to present themselves as martyrs of free speech, when in fact they are being almost catered to by the administration. Jan Dervish, a junior at Liberty who served as LUDC’s secretary, conceded that Falwell has been receptive and willing to reach a compromise, according to the May 28 press release.
“He even returned a phone call to me while in North Carolina on vacation,” he said.
Receptive? Willing to reach a compromise? Sounds like Childress needs to take notes from Falwell’s playbook.
On the OTHER hand, I think Liberty benefited from having political clubs from both the right and the left, especially during the past presidential election. The LUDC and the College Republicans held a few debates during the 2008-2009 school year, and each was handled civilly and professionally. This kind of controversy (the kind that is in the REAL world, by the way) is healthy for students who are learning to defend what they believe in and do not want to be spoon-fed anymore.
I asked Jennifer Schmidt, a graduate of Liberty and former editor in chief for the Liberty Champion (the school newspaper), for her thoughts on the situation. Here is what she had to say:
“Christianity is not a political system of belief, nor is it a political machine. Therefore, sincere believers can be members of any political party in good conscience. Christians who polarize the church with politics are simply poisoning the gospel with manmade agendas.
“While abortion is an issue I strongly disagree with, I also know that not every Democrat is pro-choice, nor is every republican pro-life. I strongly believe that having Christians in the Democratic party could be a very redemptive force and initiative for change, and in that hope, I strongly support Christians who decide they are best used by God in the Democratic party.
“Liberty is currently in the throes of an institutional identity crisis. Contradictions arise on a regular basis, but overall, I think the most recent incident illustrates a sincere fear that Liberty is losing its institutional integrity. It is an unfounded fear, for truth by its very nature will prevail regardless of circumstances. Therefore, it is irrational to go to such lengths to control the atmosphere and environment of the school. If students are allowed to debate and discuss issues as they wish and without fear of reprimands, they will be more likely to engage in the issues and with each other.”
It all comes down to intelligence, and not being brainwashed by media who only wants to feed the American public certain information and leave out critical parts of the story. I am extremely disappointed in the Lynchburg News and Advance for their inaccurate and biased reporting, and I hope they reprimand Ray Reed, the reporter who covered the story, for his incomplete and shoddy coverage of the situation.
When a story like this surfaces, do your own research and find out the whole story. When I read this story, I immediately started making phone calls to officials on both sides of the situation. I learned the truth by digging for it, not taking the liberal media’s word for it.
Why can’t more people use their intelligence and do the same?