Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story reported that Liberty University students who participate in the Democratic Party club would face reprimands, including expulsion. The university said that the information, which came from a member of the banned student group, is incorrect.

Liberty U. Drops Democratic Club, Saying Views Conflict With Those of College

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 23, 2009

RICHMOND, May 22 -- Liberty University will no longer recognize its campus Democratic club because, officials say, the national party's platform goes against the conservative Christian school's moral principles.

Officials at the private Lynchburg school, which was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, said they made the decision after receiving complaints from trustees, parents and donors.

"They really are great kids and good friends of mine," said Jerry Falwell Jr., who became the school's chancellor after his father died in 2007. "It's just an issue of what Liberty's mission is."

The decision led to swift and strong criticism by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and the three Democrats running to replace him. Kaine, who spoke on the campus on behalf of then-Sen. Barack Obama last year, urged the school to reconsider.

"For Liberty University to deprive the College Democrats of the same opportunity as College Republicans . . . violates that fundamental principle of fairness and teaches the students the wrong message," Kaine said.

Terry McAuliffe, one of the Democrats running for governor in the June 9 primary, organized a conference call with reporters yesterday to denounce the school's actions.

"People are tired of the division," McAuliffe said.

The other Democratic gubernatorial candidates, R. Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran, released statements condemning the decision.

"Restricting free speech and discouraging students from participating in the political process are not what our colleges and universities should be about," Deeds, a Bath County senator, said.

"Colleges are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas -- even ones you might not agree with," said Jesse Ferguson, Moran's spokesman.

McAuliffe compared the Liberty flap to Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert F. McDonnell's opposition to Obama receiving an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame because of his abortion views.

McDonnell, who attended Notre Dame and spoke at Liberty in March, said through his spokesman that he "personally disagrees" with Liberty's decision but that because it is a private school its leaders can make their own decisions.

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