Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and a prominent evangelical supporter of President Donald Trump, is ramping up his campaign of misinformation about the coronavirus.
Fresh from his March 13 appearance on Fox News during which Falwell speculated, with absolutely no evidence, that the virus is a North Korean bioweapon, the fact-lacking Lynchburger has struck again. This time, he appeared on Todd Starnes’s podcast to boast about his plans to keep Liberty open during the pandemic, all the while spewing even more nonsense. (Starnes, you may recall, is the guy whose right-wing nuttery is so out there that even Fox News cut him loose.)
Falwell was only on the show for about four minutes but managed to spread an astonishing amount of rubbish in that time period. He asserted that the reaction to the virus is “politics – it’s just politics,” inaccurately called coronavirus a flu (it’s not) and harrumphed, “I’m not worried about it.”
According to Falwell, the media has blown the virus out of proportion “just to hurt Trump.” (He failed to explain how the media has managed to kill more than 21,000 people worldwide.) He said it was important to speak out because otherwise, the country might “resort to socialism.” (Note to Falwell: You’re too late.)
“Government’s not the answer,” Falwell drawled. “Common sense is the answer. Churches are the answer.”
Falwell’s version of “common sense” includes reopening Liberty and allowing students to live close together in dorms and mandating that faculty and staff report to work – even after state officials closed public schools for the year and urged people not to gather in groups of 10 or more.
Although in-person classes are canceled at Liberty, students can elect to attend remotely while living on campus, and nearly 2,000 returned after spring break. Falwell’s decision has been widely panned; Marybeth Davis Baggett, an English professor at the school, has called on Liberty’s board to overrule him. Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy called the move “reckless.”
Board action against Falwell isn’t likely to happen, and if I were Baggett, I’d start polishing my resume because, except for at its law school, faculty at Liberty don’t have tenure. Still, it’s good to see people standing up to Falwell. The man is putting lives at stake.
The good news is that Falwell is an outlier. Across the country, most religious leaders and educators are doing the right thing and holding worship services or classes virtually. They know that the only way we’ll get through this public health emergency is if we work together – even if we’re physically apart.
Americans United is doing its part. All staff members are working remotely to protect church-state separation. We haven’t let up one bit. That includes urging governors not to grant houses of worship exemptions from restrictions on mass gatherings and speaking out against Christian nationalists like Falwell whose views endanger our people.
Be assured that AU's activism and tenacious defense of America’s precious legacy of religious freedom, undergirded by the separation of religion and government, will continue – before, during and after this crisis.
Photo: By Taber Andrew Bain via Creative Commons