Liberty University can’t have it both ways


As I have written on this blog previously, no one should be surprised that officials at Liberty University have disbanded the school’s chapter of College Democrats. After I posted my initial thoughts on this matter, Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr., hedged a bit by saying that the Democrats were welcome to meet on campus, receive university funding and use the school’s name as long as they affiliated with the anti-abortion organization, Virginia Democrats for Life. This was followed by several days of negotiations, much of which have taken place in the media. That hasn’t helped Falwell, the students or Liberty. 

Today’s editorial in the Harrisonburg Daily News Record takes the cake though. The paper links to a Richmond Times-Dispatch story which reports that the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State have called on the IRS to investigate the tax exempt status of the university in light of the fact that they have refused to provide College Democrats the same status on campus as College Republicans.

In the view of the Daily News Record, if the IRS decides to withdraw Liberty’s tax exempt status as a result of the university’s partisan politics, it would, “be a serious blow to the free exercise of religion.”

Um, no.

While I agree with the Lynchburg News & Advance that Liberty and any other private college has the right to hold whatever religious beliefs they want, there are some limits to that right.

For Liberty, that limit began when the school applied for and received exemption from paying Federal income taxes. If the school is going to be tax exempt, it must obey the law. (And I’m sorry, your freedom to exercise your religion is not impaired if taxpayers no longer subsidize your Republican Party agenda.)

Put simple, Liberty can not maintain its tax exempt status while the school is advocating for a candidate or a policy position. Period. (That’s not just my opinion, that’s the law.)

In addition to reviewing the school’s tax exempt status, I believe the government should consider yanking federally subsidized student loans for students going to the school.

To obey the law, Falwell may have to boot the College Republicans from campus, too. (Or has he puts it, strip them of funding and the right to use the Liberty name.) That would be a ridiculous way to resolve this dispute.

But of course, Liberty is being ridiculous. The school fails to recognize that the evangelical movement is no longer monolithically partisan and evangelicals care about more issues than abortion and gay marriage. (And on those issues, evangelical Christians disagree.)

Interestingly, this is not the first time the Falwell family has been challenged by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The last time, the group expressed concerns about a Falwell television broadcast hosted by the late Jerry Falwell, Sr. After their investigation, the IRS yanked the tax exempt status of the television show because of Falwell’s partisan politicking. I am not sure why the outcome this time should be any different.

For me the bottom line is clear. Liberty can’t have it both ways: they need to chose between their tax exempt status and their insistence on pursuing a right wing Republican Party agenda.

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5 Comments

Filed under Right wing nut jobs, taxation

5 responses to “Liberty University can’t have it both ways

  1. I can’t agree more. I think that out of the progressive bloggers in Virginia, I am closest to Lynchburg and LU (geographically) than anyone. Being close to the eye of the storm is interesting. You either love or hate LU, TRBC, and their “White Flight” private school Liberty Christian Academy.

    LU is also eligible for the Virginia TAG (Tuition Assistance Grant) for in-state college students who attend any of Virginia’s Private Colleges and Universities. This should be reviewed in addtion to their 501(c)(3) status.

  2. I’m running a (real) contest to rename Liberty University, in light of its asinine action regarding the college Democrats. The winner will receive 1 copy of “The Big Book of Irony” (2007, St. Martin’s Press) by John Winokur. The deadline for entries is 12:01 a.m. Monday June 8.

    Submit your entries as a comment at:

    http://blogs.roanoke.com/rtblogs/dancasey/2009/06/02/contest-no-2-lets-rename-liberty-u-to-just-about-anything-but-liberty/

  3. Pingback: Enter the “Rename Liberty University” Contest « Fake Virginia

  4. Jane

    Isn’t LU a private university? Shouldn’t they be able to fund or not fund whoever they want? I don’t agree w/ all of their school policies, but I think we’ve forgotten what freedom in this country means – you are free to go or NOT go to school there (I didn’t WANT to go there b/c of their policies), but if you choose to go there, you agree to abide by their policies. Real freedom means that private institutions, businesses, whatever, should be able to run things the way they want, and not be persecuted. In this country, you are free to start your own private university and fund whatever you want to there.

    • I would agree with you Jane, except Liberty receives an exemption from Federal income taxes. There are several kind of non-profits which can receive a tax exemption. The tax exemption which Liberty receives requires them to stay out of partisan politics.

      By endorsing one party over the other — regardless of the reason — they are in violation of the law.

      This is the same law which prohibits clergy from endorsing candidates from the pulpit. This stems from our Constitution.

      What I am less clear on is if their students can receive federally subsidized student loans.

      Separately, I don’t believe Liberty should be receiving Federal research dollars, but I don’t know if they are or not.

      I will be interested to see what the IRS and Liberty do next.

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