Saturday, June 20, 2009

Liberty's Democratic Ban: It's Not Quite That Simple

Jerry Falwell Jr. (right) is a man I both like and respect. We differ politically on nearly everything, but when I heard he had "banned a student Democratic club from campus," I went looking for a grain of salt. I simply didn't believe it and said so at the time. I was right, but not very many media outlets corrected the original erroneous version of the story. It is complex and not nearly as sexy as a headline that screams, "Liberty Bans Democrats!"

In the June/July issue of Liberty magazine, Jerry Jr., Liberty's chancellor (and the Business Person of the Year several years ago when I was at the Blue Ridge Business Journal, an award he richly deserved), explains exactly what happened, how it was misunderstood and what it means. I still don't agree with Liberty's choices here--I think they are wrong-headed and contrary to the mission of a university to expose its students to many truths (and many untruths)--but I think it's important to understand exactly what it did and what it didn't do.

Falwell explains succinctly: "Liberty University has not banned Democrats from campus. Nor has the Democrat club been banned from meeting. And, never has the university or its officials said that a person cannot be a Christian and a Democrat" as was reported of Dr. Mark Hine, a 35-year veteran at Liberty. Liberty does not endorse the club and does not allow it to use the Liberty name to imply that it does because of its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage which many Democrats support.

Falwell says that "the club's sponsor may have been the source of these erroneous reports, but one phone call to Liberty officials could have prevented all the false headlines" as is often the case in journalism. The phone call might not have prevented the headlines, but it would have told another side of the story.

Falwell goes on: "The students who formed the Democrat club last October are good students. They are pro-life and believe in traditional marriage. They can continue to meet on campus. The only thing that has changed came about as part of a university-wide review of all student organizations for official recognition status. Official recognition carries with it the benefits of using the university name and funds. While this group will not be an officially recognized club, it may still meet on campus."

He further says that "we told the students who do have proposals that would allow them to operate without supporting pro-abortion and anti-marriage causes that we would consider those proposals after the club sponsor issues a retraction of her misstatements of fact and an apology" to Hine.

The problem here is that many Democrats* believe in a woman's right to choose what to do with her body and everybody's right to choose a partner. Notre Dame is facing much the same dilemma in inviting pro-choice people to campus to speak. The Catholic Church is as anti-abortion as Liberty is.

Frankly, I understand the intensity of emotion among those who believe abortion is "killing babies." It is difficult for those who believe that to accept abortion as anything but murder and I'm not sure why more abortion physicians are not shot. I certainly do not approve of that, but if I thought I was witnessing murder every day, I would be tempted to stop it by any means available to me. That's off-topic, so I'll shut up about the right and wrong of the positions.

It's the banning of an entire political party from a college campus that we're concerned with here and that didn't happen. Liberty is not as open to opposition ideas as I would like, nor is it as closed to them as been reported. Maybe we all need to listen a little better.

(*I wish Republicans would stop trying to insult Democrats by intentionally refusing to say "Democratic Party" which is a registered trademark, preferring instead "Democrat Party," an intentional slight and hardly an engaging way to argue. While we're explaining things, let me make sure you understand that I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican, either.)


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  2. Why those who think abortion is "killing babies" don't shoot more abortion doctors:

    1. They respect the law.
    2. They are unwilling to go to jail or die for their cause.
    3. They don't *really* think abortion is murder.

  3. I attended L.U. from 1989-1993, and here's my opinion for what it's worth. L.U. is a private institution. And each prospective student needs to read the school's policies and know what they are applying for BEFORE they enroll. It irks the living daylights out of me to see these kids get in there and then complain about the school. If they have a problem with not being able to receive funding, then they need to converse with the Democratic Party, not the school. The school, (especially one that is private) should not have to compromise its position. With that being said, I think that L.U. should have a stronger publicist. The media had a hay day with the story, and in my opinion, the school didn't take a strong enough stand.