A response to the Liberty President’s editorial on free speech.
During the Conservative Political Action Conference hosted last week in D.C, President Donald Trump announced he would sign an executive order that would withdraw federal research dollars from colleges and institutions that do not promote and protect free speech.
The announcement comes in response to a recent assault at UC Berkeley where a student trying to recruit members for the conservative group Turning Point USA was harassed and punched repeatedly on campus.
With the announcement came a wave of speculation and commentary. Is it wise to involve the government in campus issues? Is it that big of an issue? What would be the repercussions?
Among these voices is Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr, who wrote a column for Fox News praising Trump and the order. He said his school promotes free speech and always has.
While I agree freedom of speech is extremely important for college campuses, Falwell has no authority to speak on the issue. He is not a proponent of free speech and neither is Liberty University.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recently listed Liberty as one of the worst colleges for free speech. The list includes schools like Georgetown’s Qatar satellite campus, where students could be imprisoned for producing content contrary to their beliefs.
I have experienced the censorship at Liberty firsthand as the news editor for the student newspaper, The Liberty Champion. During my time as an editor, student stories were constantly manipulated and sometimes cut entirely if they did not fit the preferred narrative of the administration.
I sat in on many meetings with Liberty officials trying to find a way to make a story more Liberty-friendly, stifling student voices and promoting their own agenda.
The news censorship was not restricted to political news, though. There were times when an article was cut or modified just because the leadership felt like it could have bad connotations.
The situation got so bad that eventually another student editor and I were fired and the Champion received new levels of oversight from the administration.
Other student groups have also been silenced by Liberty’s leadership. Liberty has only briefly had a college Democrats club because the university has repeatedly shut down any efforts to organize one.
There is a Democratic presence on campus, but they are not allowed to be a formal club because many left-wing stances do not align with the Liberty Way, the student code of conduct.
Students from the College Libertarians club have been stifled as well. According to Club President Aaron Sobczak, many of the group’s signs have been stolen or damaged and members have been harassed.
The Young Americans for Liberty club has also faced its fair share of restrictions and silencing. According to Chapter President Addyson Garner, the group has had a free speech wall removed, moved protests and displays to less populated areas, restricted speakers like Vermin Supreme from coming on campus and even suspended the club for a time.
Additionally, Liberty makes big claims about inviting people with different views and ideologies on campus, but the two examples of Sanders and Carter Falwell cites are the only diversity of thought I’ve seen on campus my entire collegiate career. I’ve seen more censorship than promotion of diversity.
In the fall of 2017, liberal pastor Jonathan Martin received a lifelong ban from campus for trying to stage a prayer revival on campus. Liberal Christian activist Shane Claiborne received the same treatment when the Red-Letter Christians hosted a conference at E.C. Glass High School in the spring of 2018.
Most recently, Falwell invited Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to speak at Convocation. He used this as an opportunity to boast about how Liberty promotes free speech.
. @AOC Although we disagree on most of our politics, I would love to offer you the invite to come present your ideas at Liberty Convocation. Unlike most schools we welcome free speech and hearing from those who differ from our political views.
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) March 5, 2019
What he failed to mention is how he called her dumb and a liar exactly one tweet previously.
I thought @AOC was just dumb but she is a liar too. She claims this was @CPAC last week when it was actually in 2015 the day after the deadly CA attacks by radical Muslims (“those” Muslims I referenced) She also deleted the last part of my quote “before they walk in and kill us”. https://t.co/lIw4V4BaVj
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) March 5, 2019
This is like spitting in someone’s face and then inviting them to dinner then next second. Of course, they won’t accept.
Falwell appears to paint himself as a proponent of free speech only when it is convenient for him. Liberty University has many professors that believe in free speech and encourage diversity of thought, but unfortunately, the leadership like Falwell make the calls on this.
If President Trump’s order is passed, if it really follows through fairly on its promise, Liberty should be losing federal research money.
You won’t see Liberty students assaulting those with different ideas than them on campus. The students are not the problem.
The problem is the fact that Liberty is led by men like Falwell, who is patting himself on the back for being so open-minded and silencing those who disagree.
Panyard is the Editor-in-Chief.