Liberty Learns A Lesson: Falwell School Accepts AU Advice On Political Clubs
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jun 23, 2009 at 12:59:38 PM EST
Americans United for Separation of Church and State reacted quickly when word spread recently that officials at Liberty University had revoked university recognition of a student Democratic Party club.

AU, noting that recognition and funding were still being extended to a Republican club on campus, asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the matter. Liberty University, as a tax-exempt institution, could not lawfully favor one party over another, Americans United asserted.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. went ballistic. He even accused AU of being partisan and ordered his legal lackeys to draft a phony complaint to the IRS.

But now it turns out that Falwell is essentially admitting that we were right all along and agreeing that the university has an obligation to treat both clubs equally.

Falwell has announced a new policy at Liberty. Under its terms, both the Republican and Democratic clubs will be considered "unofficial." Such clubs can use the university's name but won't receive any funding.

The students who run Liberty's Democratic club say they think the compromise could work. Americans United considers the new policy a big step in the right direction but intends to keep an eye on the situation.

The one thing we've learned over the years about the Falwells is that they don't always keep their word. They are quite capable of saying one thing and doing another, so we'll remain on alert.

As Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the Lynchburg News & Advance, "We'll have to see how that plays out.... But I do think that this is a pretty stark recognition that the previous policy was dangerously wrong, dangerous to your tax exemption."

What's most frustrating about this incident is the way Falwell behaved. When AU and others spoke out against Liberty's policy, he hotly insisted he had done nothing wrong and went on the attack. He blamed others for making trouble and refused to accept an iota of the blame.

Where did all of that huffing and puffing lead him? At the end of the day, Falwell ended up adopting an equal treatment policy that Americans United and other critics pushed for all along.

Jerry Jr., it seems, hasn't learned one thing from his father's missteps. That's disappointing but perhaps not surprising. But not to worry. AU intends to keep a close eye on the Liberty chancellor, and his brother, Jonathan, who runs the TV ministry, just to make sure they stay on the right side of the law.


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