Liberty claims to be a big proponent of free speech, but is it really?
Liberty University prides itself on being one of the largest Christian universities in the world, one that trains students to be “Champions for Christ.” But Liberty has had a mixed history in regard to freedom of speech and expression on campus.
While public universities are required to allow free speech on their campuses, private universities are not. In an attempt to regulate when and where controversial views can be expressed, some private universities have created “free speech zones,” designated spaces on campuses where students are free to express their views. While Liberty does not have a free speech zone, it is extremely conservative and the administration regularly censors unpopular or uncomfortable speech.
Obviously public colleges have more of an obligation to protect free expression on campus than private colleges do, however a university like Liberty should refrain from becoming a bubble of censorship where only the thoughts found in the echo chamber of conservative Christianity are allowed.
Liberty has done several things recently that would make most people think that it does not support free expression. It is understandable for a private Christian college to censor some speech, such as profanity, in places of worship, however Liberty has definitely taken censorship too far.
This censorship includes the school president actively censoring political articles in the school newspaper, as well as articles that may reflect poorly on the school. This led many of the staff at the Liberty Champion to resign.
The censorship also includes a ban on profanity in all contexts, found in the student rules of conduct known as the “Liberty Way.” Political speech is also censored, so much so that the College Democrats were shut down and have not yet been restarted due to students not being able to find a willing faculty advisor.
A national organization known as FIRE has called for Liberty University to end their censorship. FIRE states that even though Liberty is a private university, it should still refrain from censoring the press and student organizations. They have even called out Jerry Falwell when he said the university “promotes the free expression of ideas.”
This is clearly a bold-faced lie coming from one of the country’s most outspoken evangelicals. Red Letter Revival’s Jonathan Martin was banned from campus when he wanted to host a prayer revival because of his view of President Trump and liberal theological views.
The National Organization “Young Americans for Liberty” has been censored or punished for their actions on campus multiple times. They were forced to take down a free speech wall after a marijuana leaf was drawn on it, they were not allowed to host Vermin Supreme at one of their events and were were forced to leave a table that they had scheduled in the library when they tabled for marijuana legalization.
As President of the College Libertarians on campus, I have seen some of the effects of this mindset. We have had several of our signs stolen or damaged on campus, and multiple members in our club were harassed or reported for false claims of profanity on campus during election season.
Every election we are reminded just how much of a bubble we live in on campus. Liberty University even gives sample ballots to be handed out to the students suggesting that students vote for Jerry Falwell’s endorsed candidates, who are exclusively Republican.
Convocation regularly features divisive conservative speakers such as Dinesh D’Souza and Candace Owens, but a liberal or progressive speaker has not been to convocation since the democratic primaries of the 2016 presidential election when candidate Bernie Sanders spoke. It appears the administration, and especially the school president, are afraid of differing points of view.
A place of higher learning should refrain from censorship when at all possible to allow students to properly build their worldview and learn to defend themselves in the real world. I wonder when or if Liberty University and Jerry Falwell will drop the free expression façade and truthfully admit that Liberty University is significantly friendlier to speech that fits the big government, conservative, moral majority group and that the university aims to indoctrinate, not educate.