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.”
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.