Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. has rescinded a policy that discriminated against a College Democrats club after widespread complaints and negative publicity.
The flap started in May after Liberty officials informed the president of the student Democratic club that it is no longer eligible for university recognition, including funding through student activity fees. The goals of the Democratic Party, school officials insisted, are contrary to Liberty’s evangelical Christian outlook.
The school’s Republican Club, however, retained these privileges.
Americans United asserted that the school, which is tax exempt, was unlawfully intervening in partisan politics.
“LibertyUniversity is a tax-exempt institution and isn’t allowed to support one party over another,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “If the school insists on pushing policies that favor Republicans over Democrats, it should have to surrender its tax exemption.”
AU asked the IRS to investigate the matter.
With pressure mounting, Falwell 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 said they would accept the compromise. Lynn said he considers the new policy a big step in the right direction but vowed to keep an eye on the situation.
“We’ll have to see how that plays out,” Lynn told the Lynchburg News & Advance. “But I do think that this is a pretty stark recognition that the previous policy was dangerously wrong, dangerous to [Liberty’s] tax exemption.”
Falwell was so angry over AU’s intervention in the matter that he ordered his attorneys to file an IRS complaint against Americans United, asserting that AU has intervened in partisan politics too.
Unfortunately for Falwell, the complaint contained a number of factual errors. For example, it accused Lynn of having attended a service at the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church and a national meeting of the United Church of Christ, both of which featured speeches by Barack Obama. In fact, Lynn did not attend either of those events.
“Falwell knows full well that Americans United is rigorously non-partisan,” said Lynn. “He’s feeling the heat for a bad decision and trying to shift the focus to Americans United. This is a desperate diversionary tactic, and it will fail. Instead of launching baseless attacks against Americans United, Falwell needs to get his own house in order.”