Liberty Moves Against Liberty

Liberty University made a mistake in revoking recognition of its student Democratic club. But the argument put forth by the conservative Christian institution had some substance to it. Mathew Staver, dean of the university, and John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute both argued that religious freedom trumps questions of political balance. That’s true. A religious institution is certainly allowed to define its own mission and to promote or reject messages in accordance with that mission. Notre Dame would have been within its rights to decide against giving an abortion-approving president a platform. And no one should be surprised if a Quaker institution rejects a gung-ho militaristic club, or if a Catholic university took a dim view of a Peter Singer infanticide club that reflects the Princeton ethicist’s belief that parents should legally have at least 30 days to kill their newborns if they wish. At a public university, almost all clubs and associations should be approved. Religious institutions can and should exert greater control. The Democratic club at Liberty has not been disbanded. But it cannot use the Liberty name and will likely not be eligible for university funding
The problem is that Liberty moved against its Democratic club, not because that club promoted a cause out of sync with the university’s religious message, but because club members supported some pro-choice politicians. But not all Democrats approve abortion, and Liberty’s message here is, in effect, that there is no point in Democratic students working with Democratic politicians to change their minds on abortion or to work on other causes of common interest. Apparently Republicans are the only party Liberty students should be working with and perhaps voting for. This stance comes close to announcing that Liberty is a permanent appendage of the Republican party.
Another consideration: the campuses have been so battered by censorship and violations of free expression – drowning out of speakers, theft of campus newspapers, the creation of “free speech zones” to confine student demonstrators to tiny and obscure areas – that administrators should bend over backward to give the edge to freedom of expression.
Also, it’s worth noting in passing that Republican and conservative clubs on campus are regularly quashed or defunded, often with one or two citations on Google or none at all. Liberty’s decision drew more the 300 Google comments and reports. You would almost think that the press and the campuses are less interested in the general issue of free expression than in the question of whether the ox on the left is being gored.

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

2 thoughts on “Liberty Moves Against Liberty

  1. First: while it’s true that “not all Democrats approve abortion,” the number left who do not is probably miniscule.
    I’m a faculty member at one of a number of public universities that have either banned the Christian Legal Society from campus or (in my university’s case) prohibited funding. Meanwhile, the university uses mandatory student fees and other public funds to support all sorts of leftwing political/religious views and a student newspaper that prints (over the objections of some who pay for it) explicit sex “how to” columns for students.
    So while Liberty University was incorrect to ban the Democrats, it is a private instition; and when the Left is in control they do the same even at public institutions. It’s hard to feel too sorry for folks who are so quick to insist upon academic freedom for themselves but so quick to deny it where conservatives are concerned.

  2. Liberty bans voices from the Left. University of Richmond bans conservative voices from campus.
    Some argue that private institutions have the right to act in such a tyrannical way, but at what point does such behavior by an institution become a civil rights violation?
    While the civil rights issue is addressed through class action lawsuits, the citizens can initiate a much more effective and lasting counter-measure against institutionalized censorship.
    Students who attend centers of Leftist indoctrination, such as Richmond, are fed a steady diet of Leftist dogma. Students at places such as Liberty, get pummeled with the Right’s version of political correctness. The most effective measure that the citizens can use against institutional censorship, will be to not send students to such places, and businesses must refuse to hire “graduates” of these places where indoctrination has supplanted the pursuit of the truth.
    Parents, students and all of our citizens must send a clear message: An institution that limits political speech, forfeits the right to call itself a university. Institutions that ban speech must be denied tax-exempt status and also be removed from institutions qualified for government student aid programs.
    We must reserve the title of, “University” to places where the pursuit of truth is paramount, wherever such pursuits may lead us.

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