Falwell's Liberty University Raking in Big-Time Money From America's Taxpayers
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 02:30:57 PM EST
In the past, Liberty University was saved from debt by being a beneficiary of the late Jerry Falwell's life insurance policy. It has also been bailed out by the financial maneuverings of Rev. Sun Myung Moon. These days, however, the university is experiencing phenomenal growth, due in part to the largesse of the American taxpayer.

One might think that a private, decidedly conservative, and totally evangelical Christian University, that was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who was openly critical of government programs, would spurn federal dollars.

Au contraire mon ami.

"I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!" - The Rev. Jerry Falwell, America Can Be Saved

This year, the fortieth anniversary of Liberty University, Rev. Falwell's dream -- now being looked after by his son Jerry Jr. -- has become a reality thanks in large part to America's taxpayers.

Founded by Falwell in 1971, Liberty University, which according to its website is "the largest and fastest growing Christian Evangelical university in the world" and "the largest private university in Virginia," is "celebrating 40 Years of Training Champions for Christ."

Liberty U. receives massive government aid

During the last fiscal year alone, Liberty received about $445 million in federal financial aid money, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Over the past few years, Liberty University has raked in so much taxpayer money from the federal government that is now ranked among the top ten universities in the United States receiving federal dollars. It is also Virginia's top recipient of federal money.

In a 2009 piece for RH Reality Check titled "Why is the Federal Government Supporting Evangelism?", Eleanor J. Bader pointed out that LU's [Jesse] Helms School of Government "crows that it turns out 'Christ-centered leaders, able to apply God's word in every area of life.' What's more, LU's webpage showcases its mission, promising students an 'action-oriented curriculum dedicated to world evangelism and repudiation of political correctness.'

"Not sure what that means? The site explains: 'A strong commitment to political conservatism, total rejection of socialism, and firm support for America's economic system of free enterprise.'"

Since it doesn't get much more religiously oriented than Liberty University, a fair question to ask is: Should a private sectarian institution be receiving federal funds?

"The short answer is that it would be difficult -- if not impossible -- to challenge the government grants going to Liberty students," Rob Boston, Senior Policy Analyst with Americans United, told me in an e-mail exchange. "This can be difficult area of the law. The Supreme Court has always been more lax on aid to religious colleges than it has been on aid to secondary schools. In years past, the court has held that tax aid cannot go to institutions deemed 'pervasively sectarian' but that such aid was permissible for those schools that were judged to be 'religiously affiliated.' This test has begun to erode at the high court, however, under the conservative majority. Complicating the matter is that the fact that many conservative legal scholars argue that Pell Grants are actually aid to the student, not the school -- an argument that has been embraced by the Supreme Court's conservative bloc."

"The rapid growth of Liberty's online program has fueled the increased reliance on federal aid dollars, said Robert Ritz, LU's executive director of financial aid," Lynchburg, Virginia's The News & Advance recently reported. In addition to 12,000 students on campus, the University enrolled nearly 52,000 students online last year.

"It has ballooned," said Ritz of Liberty's financial aid volume. "In some categories, I've seen us rank no. 3 nationally, or in the top ten. It's because of our size and the growth." According to The News & Advance, "In the span of a year, Liberty's experienced about a 56 percent spike in federal student aid, from $284 million in 2008-2009 to $445 million in 2009-2010, according to Department of Education data compiled by The News & Advance. (LU calculates the total aid at $432 million and $277 million, still a 56 percent increase.)"

In a recent piece at WiredPen, Kathy Gill pointed out that while Liberty has received more than $445 million, in 2010, National Public Radio received $2.7 million in federal money (http://wiredpen.com/2011/05/25/student-loans-private-universities -and-npr/). The Corporation for Public Broadcasting received $420 million from the federal government.

According to Gill, who teaches digital communication at the University of Washington, "Liberty ... sucks in federal dollars because it has set up an online university (think University of Phoenix et al) which it has used to claim 58,000 students."

Gill stated that, "The federal windfall, if it follows the law of averages, is coming at the expense of the American taxpayer. That's because students at for-profit colleges/universities default at an astronomical rate relative to public colleges. Private school students account for about half of all federal student loan defaults yet these institutions account for about a quarter of federal financial aid while enrolling only about 10 percent of college students."

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Officials at for-profit colleges say that their students default at higher rates because a majority of them are poorer to start with and face many more financial challenges. Critics of the colleges say their high default rates show that many of those institutions are loading up their students with unaffordable debt that the students cannot repay once they graduate or drop out."

Kathy Gill also noted that in 2007, the year that Falwell died, "Liberty was $20-$25 million in debt," which was paid off through the use of "a $34 million insurance policy," that Falwell had taken out.

Rev. Moon to the rescue

Some twelve years earlier, the existence of Liberty University was being threatened, by a debt of $73 million. In 1995, veteran journalist Robert Parry told the spellbinding story of secret meetings, strange bedfellows, and how the Rev. Sun Myung Moon secretly helped to bail out the university by funneling funds to a non-profit Forest, Va.-based organization called Christian Heritage Foundation, which was run by two Virginia businessmen, Dan Reber and Jimmy Thomas (http://www.consortiumnews.com/archive/moon3.html).

According to Parry, "Reber and Thomas earned Falwell's public gratitude by excusing the Lynchburg, Va., school of about one-half of its $73 million debt. In the late 1980s, that flood of red ink had forced Falwell to abandon his Moral Majority political organization and nearly drowned Liberty University in bankruptcy.

"... Their non-profit Christian Heritage Foundation of Forest, Va., snapped up a big chunk of Liberty's debt for $2.5 million, a fraction of its face value. Thousands of small religious investors who had bought church construction bonds through a Texas company were the big losers. But Falwell shed no tears. He told local reporters that the moment was 'the greatest single day of financial advantage' in the school's history.

"Left unmentioned ... was the identity of the bigger guardian angel who had been protecting Falwell's financial interests -- from a distance and without publicity. That secret benefactor was the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed South Korean messiah who is controversial with many fundamentalist Christians because of his bizarre Biblical interpretations and his brainwashing tactics that have torn thousands of young people from their families. Moon also has grown harshly anti-American in recent years.

"Covertly, Moon helped bail out Liberty University through one of his front groups which funneled $3.5 million to the Reber-Thomas Christian Heritage Foundation, the non-profit that had purchased the school's debt."

Another interesting Liberty U./Moon connection is Dr. Ronald Godwin, who currently serves as Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of Liberty University. According to the website Cult News from Rick Ross, Godwin was "formerly a Senior Vice President at the Moon-controlled newspaper the Washington Times" (http://www.cultnews.com/?p=2036).

Ross reported that Godwin was "A professor at Liberty University during the 1980s [before he] ... took a job at the Washington Times in 1986. He also once served as Executive Director and Executive Vice President of Falwell's 'Moral Majority' and was contributing editor of its newspaper according to his bio."

The tax-exempt university has a 5000-acre campus, complete with more than 120 buildings, and 60 accredited undergraduate majors, and schools of aeronautics, arts and sciences, business, communications, education, government, religion, and law.

Liberty goes Hollywood

Liberty's Commencement 2011 featured speaker was film director and screenwriter Randall Wallace. According to the Randall Wallace Films website, Wallace is "the Oscar®-nominated creative force behind the epic storytelling of such critical and box-office hits as Braveheart , We Were Soldiers and Pearl Harbor ... [and] last Fall ['s] Secretariat, the impossible true story of the racehorse who won the Triple Crown in 1973."

In introducing Wallace, Falwell told the crowd of nearly 30,000 at Williams Stadium that the director/screenwriter who also teaches film classes at Pepperdine University, was an "especially fitting" guest speaker because the university would be opening "its own Center for the Cinematic Arts next year with a mission to impact the entertainment world with Christian values just as Wallace has."

Wallace told the graduate that they "may be feeling weak and lost and confused, but I tell you I believe with all of my heart, that feeling that way you are a more fitting tool for God than the man that believes that his money, that his fame, that the honors of other men have made him wise. Jesus gave us one clear order -- to love one another. And if you look at your parents today and you see tears in their eyes, I promise they're not tears of sorrow or fear, these are tears of love. God loves you and if you love back in every way you can, then ... you will look back on this day as the day of your greatest strength, as a day of victory."

With the Religious Right so adamantly against government programs, American United's Rob Boston pointed out that "The more interesting question appears to be a non-legal one," since "it has become an article of faith among the Religious Right that government programs are always bad and that reliance on public forms of assistance breeds dependency. In light of this, it seems just a bit hypocritical for so many Liberty University students to be bellying up to the federal trough and for the school to behave as a ward of the state."




Display:
Are student loans considered part of this package?

by wilkyjr on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 04:18:08 PM EST

Bill, I only recently became aware of the financial influence Rev. Moon, self-proclaimed messiah, has had over Washington and, in particular, the Republicans and the conservative world as a whole. For example, it is not common knowledge that the Bush family is financially involved with this man and his huge cult organization (Bush Library even received $1 million from Rev. Moon). In searching the web, however, I find little recent information on Rev. Moon's cult and its influence on U.S. politics. Folks who haven't been paying attention may even believe that the Washington Times is no longer associated with the Moonies when, in fact, they bought back the newspaper for one dollar in 2010. As a side note, I decided to check on any connection between the GOP and the Moonies because I find the blank eyes in photographs of Michele Bachmann and Scott Walker disturbingly familiar to the blank-eyed, oddly smiling faces of Moonies who visited my doorstep in the '70s. I'm not saying those two politicians are Moonies, but their blank eyes ARE what caused me to investigate! Bill, would you please write a comprehensive update on the Moonies?

by BaileyinMI on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 03:42:41 PM EST


WWW Talk To Action


Thoughts on the Finale of the Finn Debacle
Now that Bishop Robert Finn has finally resigned his leadership of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri -- here are some final thoughts......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
DeVos and School Privatization Funders Backing Philadelphia Democratic Mayoral Candidate
The Betsy DeVos-led American Federation for Children (AFC) and its core funders have spent more than fifteen million dollars in Pennsylvania over the last......
By Rachel Tabachnick (0 comments)
Religious Right Rabbi: Christian Coalition Favorite Daniel Lapin Resurfaces
Back in the 1990s when I was regularly covering the antics of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, one part of the job was......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
Christian Right leaders escalate anti-LGBTQ threats
As marriage equality has advanced around the country, and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on the issue in June, threatening language......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Could Support for LGBTQ Rights Disrupt the Coalition of Jews and Evangelical Christian Zionists?
Some might say that the relationship between the conservative US Jewish community and Evangelicals is inviolable, with support for Israel being the cement that......
By Bill Berkowitz (1 comment)
Whine Festival: Second-Tier Religious Right Leaders Still Don't Like Marriage Equality
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage equality case.In preparation for this, a sad collection of......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
Whither the Christian Right in the Democratic Party?
You don't have to be a Hillary hater (and I'm not) to recognize that Clinton and other Democratic Party leaders have had long and......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Bishop Robert Finn Resigns Leadership of St. Joseph-Kansas City Diocese
Bishop Robert W. Finn, the Opus Dei Bishop who was convicted by a Missouri court for failing to report suspected child abuse by a......
By Frank Cocozzelli (5 comments)
Two Overlooked Indiana Outcomes that Could Haunt the Christian Right
I think there are two underreported features of the fallout from Indiana that we should make sure do not get lost in the hoo......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Terms, Definitions & Glossaries for Writing about the Religious Right
One of the challenges in writing about the Religious Right and what to do about it is the matter of terms and definitions. That's......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
President Obama Can Help Stop Religious Discrimination
Barry Lynn, the longtime executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, recently posted an important essay at Huffington Post. In......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Marriage Matters: Thoughts On The Recent Unpleasantness In Indiana
Last week I taped an interview with Sister Maureen Fielder, host of "Interfaith Voices," a popular radio program exploring religious issues that is carried......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
The Campaign Against Pro-LGBTQ Denominations
The recent endorsement of marriage equality by the Presbyterian Church (USA) seemed like a good moment to discuss the campaign to divide and conquer......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Upcoming Conference: From Abortion Rights to Social Justice
The 29th annual conference From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom will be held from April 10-12 at Hampshire......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Why Is Bishop Robert Finn Still In Power?
As I reported in September 2014, Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri has been under Vatican investigation to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)

Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (0 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (0 comments)
Evangelicals Seduced By Ayn Rand Worship Crypto-Satanism, Suggest Scholars
[update: also see my closely related stories, "Crypto-Cultists" and "Cranks": The Video Paul Ryan Hoped Would Go Away, and The Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand/Satanism Connection Made Simple] "I give people Ayn Rand with trappings" -......
Bruce Wilson (10 comments)
Ted Cruz Anointed By Pastor Who Says Jesus Opposed Minimum Wage, and Constitution Based on the Bible
In the video below, from a July 19-20th, 2013 pastor's rally at a Marriott Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, Tea Party potentate Ted Cruz is blessed by religious right leader David Barton, who claims......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Galt and God: Ayn Randians and Christian Rightists Expand Ties
Ayn Rand's followers find themselves sharing a lot of common ground with the Christian Right these days. The Tea Party, with its stress on righteous liberty and a robust form of capitalism, has been......
JSanford (3 comments)
Witchhunts in Africa and the U.S.A.
Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe has recently written at least two blog posts about how some African Pentecostal churches are sending missionaries to Europe and the U.S.A. in an attempt to "re-evangelize the......
Diane Vera (1 comment)
Charles Taze Russell and John Hagee
No doubt exists that Texas mega-church Pastor John Hagee would be loathe to be associated with the theology of Pastor C.T. Russell (wrongly credited with founding the Jehovah's Witnesses) but their theological orbits, while......
COinMS (0 comments)
A death among the common people ... imagination.
Or maybe my title would better fit as “Laws, Books, where to find, and the people who trust them.”What a society we've become!The wise ones tell us over and over how the more things......
Arthur Ruger (0 comments)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
This is part 6 of a series by guest front pager Mahanoy, originally dated November 15, 2007 which I had to delete and repost for technical reasons. It is referred to in this post,......
Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (5 comments)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (5 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (5 comments)
Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Yes, that's right. We have totally lost our religious freedom in Mississippi and it must be restored by our legislators. ......
COinMS (2 comments)
Bill Gothard accused of harassing women and failing to report child abuse
Surprised no one's mentioned this, but one of the longest-standing leaders of the religious right is in a world of trouble.  Bill Gothard has been active in the fundie movement for over half......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.