By David Waters
A minor squabble over the rights of student Democrats at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University has turned into a battle over the rights of two nonprofits to keep their tax exemptions.
“If the school insists on pushing policies that favor Republicans over Democrats, it should have to surrender its tax exemption,” Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said last week after his tax-exempt organization asked the IRS to investigate the tax-exempt status of Liberty University.
Speaking of tax exemptions, “Americans United is merely a façade for a liberal agenda and the Democratic Party . . . and the IRS ought to take a close look at its tax-exempt status,” Mathew D. Staver, dean of LU’s School of Law an founder of the tax-exempt Liberty Counsel, said Monday. The Counsel is asking the IRS to investigate AU’s tax exemption.
I hope the IRS ignores both complaints. Just about every politically motivated non-profit favors one party or another’s positions on whatever social issues are on its agenda. Is there any doubt that the Christian Coalition or Focus on the Family favor the Republican Party, or that Faith in Public Life or the NAACP favor the Democratic Party? Ultimately, the real issue here isn’t tax status. It’s liberty — a private, evangelical Christian college’s liberty to uphold its own standards, and a student’s liberty to express his or her own convictions.
The Liberty fuss began May 15 when Mark Hine, LU’s vice president of student affairs, sent an email to LU’s College Democrats Club, founded last October in the run-up to the 2008 election. “I must inform you that the College democrats’ club is no longer going to be recognized as a Liberty University club,” Hine wrote. “We are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University. . . “
“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). We are removing the club from the Liberty website and you will need to cease using Liberty University’s name, including any logo, seal or mark of Liberty University.”
In a guest column for On Faith, Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., now LU’s chancellor, said the entire matter had been greatly exaggerated. “The students who formed the Democrat club last October are good students,” Falwell wrote. “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 benefit of using the University name and funds. While this group will not be an officially recognized club, it may still meet on campus.”
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and other state Democrats were not impressed. “For Liberty University to deprive the College Democrats of the same opportunity as College Republicans … violates that fundamental principle of fairness and teaches the students the wrong message,” Kaine told a Lynchburg newspaper.
Falwell and Staver have said they are willing to consider reinstating the Democrats club, if members modify their constitution to oppose abortion. Club president Brian Diaz says members are considering the offer, but are concerned about the terms.
“We’re scared about being reinstated and then having the administration look over our shoulders and tell us we can only endorse pro-life candidates,” Diaz told UWire. “Making an articulate vote isn’t based on one issue, it’s based on all the issues. The message we’re trying to send is that we don’t have to agree with a candidate on every issue but we need to look at all the issues and make the best choice.”
Will Liberty University make the best choice?
Hine’s May 15 email was clear about LU’s policy: “The Liberty Way states, ‘It is the duty of every student to respect Liberty’s Statement of Doctrine and Purpose. They may not engage in any activity on or off campus that would compromise the testimony or reputation of the University or cause disruption to Liberty’s Christian learning environment.’”
But one of the stated aims of Liberty’s statement of purpose and mission also seems clear: “Promote an understanding of the Western tradition and the diverse elements of American cultural history, especially the importance of the individual in maintaining democratic and free market processes.”
Does the Liberty Way conflict with the American Way?