A Socialist at Liberty University, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Chait, who wrote that stellar essay on campus PC earlier this year, walked back his tweet a little, but:

A reader seems to share that sentiment:

Following your note on Bernie’s speech at Liberty, I think it’s also worth noting—vis-a-vis the “Coddling of the American Mind” essay—that apparently there was no student movement at LU to disinvite Bernie. If there was, at any rate, it didn’t succeed.

There was a similar situation three years ago when another presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, was invited to Liberty as the commencement speaker. A bunch of students spoke out against the invitation due to Romney’s Mormon faith:

“I can’t support Romney and I am happy I decided not to walk (in the commencement) this year,” wrote student Josh Bergmann. “Liberty University should have gotten a Christian to speak not someone who practices a cult. Shame on you Liberty University.

Romney did give the speech though. The Academe’s blog at the time dug deeper:

The ironically-named Liberty University also has one of the most repressive campus speech codes in the country. The university banned the College Democrats in 2009 out of opposition to the national policies of the Democratic Party. The university openly promotes its repression of dissent as part of what makes it “distinctive”:

An uncompromising doctrinal statement, based upon an inerrant Bible, a Christian worldview beginning with belief in biblical Creationism, an eschatological belief in the pre-millennial, pre-tribulational coming of Christ for all of His Church, dedication to world evangelization, an absolute repudiation of “political correctness,” a strong commitment to political conservatism, total rejection of socialism, and firm support for America’s economic system of free enterprise.

Kevin Roose, who briefly attended Liberty, wrote at the time of the College Democrats ban that the student body is a “much more diverse place than people give it credit for”:

When I arrived at Liberty for my semester “abroad,” I expected to find a campus full of ballot-punching Republicans. I found those, but I also met Christian feminists, Christian civil libertarians, Christians opposed to the war in Iraq, Christian gay-rights activists, and other Liberty students who challenged the norms of their parents' generation. As evidenced by the 32% of evangelicals between the ages of 18-29 who voted for Barack Obama last November, “Christian” and “Republican” are no longer synonymous in America, and Liberty’s pathetic attempt to maintain a unified political stance by silencing dissent shows how out of touch the university is with its own student body.

But the history continues to get more complicated: Ted Kennedy, of all Democrats, was invited to speak at Liberty in 1983, and the site’s commemoration of Kennedy’s death calls him “a friend of Liberty University’s founder,” Jerry Falwell. Jerry, Jr. wrote:

Philosophically and politically, Kennedy and my father were diametrically opposed, but that did not prevent their friendship. My father invited Kennedy to speak at Liberty University on Oct. 3, 1983. I was in my third year at Liberty and remember the event well. We were impressed with Kennedy as he and his family ate dinner at our family’s home. He was warm and personable and reminded me of Dad in many ways. When he spoke to Liberty University students, he was well received and, even though the students did not agree with much of what he said, they were polite and kind.

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