Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Follow-up: Liberty University and the Young Democrats

In a follow-up to my follow-up on Liberty University's debacle concerning the Young Democrats, there have been a slew of editorials published. First, Jerry Falwell, Jr., wrote an op-ed clarifying Liberty's rationale to un-endorse the Young Democrats and to clear up any misconceptions printed in the press. Saith Falwell:
The University has not banned Democrats from campus. Nor has the Democrat club been banned from meeting. And, never has the University or its' officials said that a person cannot be a Christian and a Democrat. Sorry for those who want to run with these titillating soundbites, but these are the facts.
The President of the formerly recognized Young Democrats, Brian Diaz, offered his own thoughts on the incident. Diaz begins with the short history of the formation of the group and thank supporters, from around the state, for their thoughts; it has raised their spirits. Money quote:
But in all of this sadness, it seems as if we have been making progress! In our first email from Mark Hine, Liberty University VP of Student Affairs, he informed us that we would not be able to meet on campus, and now it has changed otherwise. At first, they did not want to work for a compromise and now they want to do just that.

Although we have been making progress with the Liberty University administration in our request to reinstate us as a club, their offers are not enough. We wish to be fully reinstated as if we were in the first place. We wish to advertise, hold events, hold meetings, and have free speech, without the administration having a hold on our organization, or its actions.

We want freedom.

To point out, Diaz believes that Hine kicked them off campus, per the original email, but Falwell seems to disagree; in his mind, they were never kicked off campus, rumors spread by the media. In due fairness to both, the infamous email says that recognized clubs are allowed to meet on campus, distribute materials, advertise for advents and use campus facilities, implying that an unrecognized club is not allowed to meet on campus. In this light, and in response to Falwell, Jan Dervish, a club officer, writes this in an op-ed:

In addition, it is our understanding that Liberty banned Democrats from conducting any activities on campus. Vice President Hine’s email clearly stated that “Student clubs or organizations must request and receive permission from the Liberty University administration before they may meet on campus, advertise, distribute or post materials, or use any University facilities for their activities or events.”
We hope to resolve this dispute as soon as possible, and we are currently in communication with the chancellor to allow us to once again be recognized while acknowledging and respecting the University’s mission.

Seeking resolution, these students met with Falwell to discuss a compromise, a chance to regain their former recognition by the University. Out of this meeting, the club is to draft an apology to Falwell and the University for statements they made in the media, particularly the statement that, attributed to Hine and the University, you can't be a Christian and a Democrat. They are expected to draft and deliver the apology within the next 48 hours.

The group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State argues that the IRS should revoke Liberty's tax exemption status because they denied recognition to Democrats while providing recognition for Republicans:
"Liberty University is a tax-exempt institution and isn't allowed to support one party over another," [Executive Director, Barry] Lynn said. "If the school insists on pushing policies that favor Republicans over Democrats, it should have to surrender its tax exemption."
But Lynn said campus political clubs often endorse and work on behalf of candidates, amounting to an in-kind contribution. By allowing students to support only one party, Lynn said the university appeared to be taking sides.

"As a tax-exempt institution, Liberty is barred from intervening in elections or showing preference for one political party over another," Lynn said in a letter to the IRS. "By banning a Democratic club while permitting a Republican club to exist and offering funding to the latter but not the former, university officials appear to be operating in violation of federal tax law."

Falwell argues that the Young Democrats weren't "banned" but that they revoked its official recognition.


AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I think I understand why Falwell is backtracking. A threat from the IRS to revoke your 501(c)3 status does tend to make one sit up and take notice.

Heck, it might even make an actual "libertarian" out of him.

Kent H said...

It seems to me that there is a huge amount of discussion and misunderstanding about a plethora of issues that have never been given clarity in these past days. Many don't understand about several of these issues at Liberty.
(1) Agree or not with the agreement, the club had a charter agreement with LU that said they would not support pro-choice or pro-gay marriage candidates. They went on to break that charter and therefore they forfeited their recognized status and NOT their right to exist. Liberty has the right under their tax exemption and educational requirements to state that they will not allow their name or money to be used in support of candidates holding such antithetical views to their stated views.
(2) Free speech gets thrown around a lot in this discussion as if speech is allowed no matter about what and where. But speech is ALWAYS conditional. You cannot yell "fire" in a crowded place. You can't say to someone, "I'm going to kill you." Deragotory speech can rise to the level of slander and that is illegal. To say that a club can say whatever they wish anywhere they wish is a little nutty.
(3) First I heard that grants and loans should be withheld from LU and now I see the 501(c)3 threat thrown around. This would be justified because LU holds views that "favor" a certain party or viewpoint over another. But every action favors someone. The ACLU is a 501(c)3 tax exempt entity. Do you want to examine the party and views their actions "favor?" Every state recognized, incorporated house of worship is 501(c)3 exempt. Tax exemption does not remove the rights of free people from holding and expressing their views, they just aren't allowed to throw their corporate support behind one particular candidate or party. This issue and the charter agreement issue are in stark opposition and the issues will have to be resolved. But if we begin to allow any entity to be railroaded away from their stated purposes and their personally held convictions over the issues of money, tax exemption, etc., we are all going to see an organization we love attacked eventually and the USA is going to start looking a lot like Lenin's USSR.

After listening and reading and watching this story mushroom, I see this as a group on the campus of LU trying to push (force) LU to do something they knew going in they shouldn't simply because with a little tweeking of the story, public sentiment would be squarely behind these "poor democrats" who broke their word and lost their recognized status. While I attended LU in the nineties, Jerry Falwell brought gay activiest Mel White on campus for a free and open discussion of the issues that divided evangelicals and the homosexual movement. Debates of all kinds have taken place on campus and I know that LU appreciates and expects an honest and open discourse of ideas. But if this school can be run down for holding conservative views and standing by them, your school can be challenged whenever their views cross the stated norm. Is that really the country we want? Not me.