Liberty University brought a multi-million dollar lawsuit last week against its former president, Jerry Falwell Jr. This is just the latest act in the ongoing fallout from the Falwell scandal that broke last year.
While Falwell continues to try & maintain relevance as a evangelical leader, Liberty University’s abhorrent policies continue unfettered, and they remain in position as a stomping ground for future darlings of the religious right. The focus needs to remain there.
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Falwell resigned from the school last year after allegations that Falwell’s wife engaged in a sexual relationship with a one-time poolboy while Falwell played voyeur. The Falwells set up Giancarlo Granda, who was just 20 when he met the couple, behind a profitable business in what looked a lot like a reward for services performed.
Liberty is desperately trying to repair the reputational hit it took from the scandal. In the lawsuit, the school alleges that “Falwell Jr. … knew that matters of infidelity, immodesty, and acceptance of a loose lifestyle would stand in stark contrast to the conduct expected of leaders at Liberty.”
Falwell called the lawsuit “lies and half truths” and promised to battle it. He brought his own defamation suit against the school last year, only to drop it.
Both Falwell and Liberty University deserve all the criticism they get. Falwell ran the university as his own fiefdom for years, without any complaint from the school’s board. Signs of his “immodesty” were easy to find for a long time. So were signs of questionable financial deals.
While Falwell was riding high, the university was happy to ignore the evidence under its nose.
Falwell was a powerful figure, so his fall from grace was spectacular. But he was powerful because of his perch at Liberty. While Falwell is fast fading from the scene, Liberty continues to build itself up as a right-wing machine.
Consider how the university erased Falwell from the think tank he started with Charlie Kirk, the head of the right-wing student group Turning Point USA. The think tank was named Falkirk, a hybrid of the founders’ names, and has as its goal “restoring and defending American ideals and Judeo-Christian values in all aspects of life.”
Falkirk didn’t so much promote thinking as Trumpism. It engaged in political advertising that’s questionable for a non-profit and served as a forum for the Trump administration’s sketchiest characters.
With Falwell’s name besmirched, the think tank was a bit of an embarrassment — but in name only. Liberty has rebranded it the Standing for Freedom Center.
Last week it named its first set of fellows, and it’s a flock of anti-LGBTQ activists, including the Benham brothers and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Pompeo was just chastised by the State Department’s Inspector General for forcing his staff to do personal errands, including booking dinner reservations at the Cheesecake Factory.)
In short, as powerful as Falwell was, he’s dispensable. The institutions are where the power resides. Personnel will come and go, but the institutions will continue their dirty work.
Liberty would like to recover its good reputation, but truth to be told, it never had a good reputation.