January 2013 Church & State | People & Events


Jerry Falwell Jr. has ambitious plans to affect life, law and culture in America, and it’s all being germinated at Liberty University, the fundamentalist bastion his father founded.

A recent New York Times article examined efforts by Falwell to boost the school’s profile through an unlikely venue – its football team.

As The Times put it, “[T]he plan is for college football – big-time,  always-on-television college football – to do for evangelical Christians in the 21st century what Notre Dame football did for Roman Catholics in the 20th.”

 “We think there would be a vast, committed fan base of conservative, evangelical Christians around the country and maybe even folks who are conservative politically who would rally behind Liberty football,” Falwell said, “They would identify with our philosophy.”

The school, based in Lynchburg, Va., faces significant hurdles in its quest to join the upper ranks of college football. But Liberty has defied expectations before.

In the 1990s, the school nearly collapsed due to financial problems. Only a generous infusion of cash from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his controversial Unification Church saved the institution.

These days, Liberty is on sound footing, thanks in part to taxpayer aid. Journalist Bill Berkowitz has reported that LU now receives “massive government aid,” mainly through grants and loans to students. Liberty has 12,000 students living on campus and is expanding to accommodate 8,000 more. An additional 82,000 students study with the school through online programs.

The school is now prospering. As The Times reported, “Liberty’s net assets have ballooned by more than $900 million in the last five years. The once sleepy Liberty campus, which used to be no more than a few nondescript structures and a parking lot, has been transformed with a multitude of technologically advanced brick buildings in the Jeffersonian architectural style…. There is an expanding law school, and a medical school is scheduled to open in 2014.”

The law school is led by Mat Staver, a longtime Religious Right attorney who has dedicated his life to attacking church-state separation. In recent years, Staver and the LU team have branched out. The group filed one of the lawsuits challenging the health care law in court and has filed suit to block the Obama administration’s requirement that insurance companies provide no-cost birth control to employees. The legal group also works to roll back gay rights.

The school’s work on behalf of the right-wing agenda has paid off. A stop at Liberty has become nearly mandatory for conservative political leaders. GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney delivered the commencement address last year.

AU Senior Policy Analyst Rob Boston noted on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog, “Liberty’s growth should alarm advocates of church-state separation. The university has become a major base of operations for opponents of the church-state wall. Liberty says its main goal is to promote ‘champions for Christ.’ The elder Falwell may be gone, but his radical agenda lives on through these ‘champions,’ who were given marching orders to infiltrate public education, the legal profession, the political world and other power centers of our national life.”