A junior student journalist at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia wrote a column for the university’s newspaper addressing Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump’s self-proclaimed “locker room talk”.
Shortly after it was written, Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. withheld the column from publication.
According to its website, Liberty University is the largest Christian University in the world. With over 500 fields of study, the liberal arts school founded in 1971 aims to “promote the synthesis of academic knowledge and Christian worldview…”.
On January 18th, Trump had visited the university in an effort to publicize his intentions to “protect Christianity”. His visit became popular throughout the media when he quoted a passage from Second Corinthians and referred to it as “Two Corinthians”.
According to The Washington Post, Falwell Jr. publically endorsed Trump’s campaign effort, and in a statement called Trump “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”
A collection of students at Liberty University have since stood against their President’s endorsement and created a group called “Liberty United Against Trump”.
LUAT released a statement that said as follows, “In the months since Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed him, Donald Trump has been inexorably associated with Liberty University. We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history. Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him.”
Falwell Jr. then authored his own article that was published by The Washington Post clarifying his endorsement. In the statement he said, “I had Liberty University post the tweets explaining that the university was not endorsing anyone and does not endorse political candidates. This was a personal decision of mine, and I know very well that Liberty has students with a wide diversity of political views, and I respect all of their opinions.”
Liberty student, Joel Schmieg, paralleled this group of students’ opinions and wrote a column shortly after the 2005 video was released of Trump discussing vulgar matters with Billy Bush from then “Access Hollywood”.
This column was never published by the university, but has since been posted online by various news organizations.
Schmieg was confused as to what had caused his column to be withheld from publication and expressed himself through his Facebook page. He had found Falwell Jr.’s encouragement of free expression amongst Liberty students to be, “amusing and extremely hypocritical”.
This controversy sparks the discussion of free speech on private Christian campuses and just how protected students’ opinions may be.
PLNU senior Broadcast Journalism major, Davis Bourgeois acknowledged the limitations for free speech on Christian campuses, but then said, “I would hate going to a school that says they support me, but then when I voice my opinion would go back on what they said to maintain their image.”
PLNU broadcast journalism major Johnathan Malmin added, “Censorship is the death of journalism”.
Although this is not the case for Liberty University in Virginia, the Leonard Law legally upholds public and private universities, like PLNU, in California to protect students’ First Amendment rights.
This CA education code states that, “No private postsecondary educational institution shall make or enforce a rule subjecting a student to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct that is speech or other communication that, when engaged in outside the campus or facility of a private postsecondary institution, is protected from governmental restriction by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution…”
PLNU journalism major, with an emphasis in art and culture news, Victoria Davis expressed that she is appreciative of PLNU for the opportunity it has been giving for its journalism students to grow, “So far this year, our paper has had the freedom to publish quite a bit of controversial topics with multiple views. I think PLNU is starting to realize that sometimes journalism students have to push boundaries to become great writers.”
“I have faith that our school would let us run a story like this”, said Malmin.