- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

LYNCHBURG, Va. — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich challenged Liberty University’s graduating class yesterday to honor the spirit of the school’s founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, by confronting “the growing culture of radical secularism” with Christian ideals.

Mr. Gingrich, a Republican considering a 2008 presidential run, repeatedly quoted Bible passages to a mournful crowd of about 17,000 packed into the university’s football stadium four days after Mr. Falwell’s death.

“A growing culture of radical secularism declares that the nation can not profess the truths on which it was founded,” Mr. Gingrich said. “We are told that our public schools can no longer invoke the Creator, nor proclaim the natural law nor profess the God-given quality of human rights.

“In hostility to American history, the radical secularists insist that religious belief is inherently divisive and that public debate can only proceed on secular terms,” he said.

In a news conference later, Mr. Gingrich said Mr. Falwell’s death has not slowed the Christian right’s efforts.

“I think anybody on the left who hopes that when people like Rev. Falwell disappear that the opportunity to convert all of America has gone with them fundamentally misunderstands why institutions like this were created,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Mr. Gingrich also said he won’t decide until October whether to run for president, and when he does, he won’t subject himself to what he called “game-show” debate formats for already-declared candidates 18 months before the November 2008 election.

“I am totally uninterested in applying for a game show as if this were the equivalent of ‘Bachelor’ or ‘American Idol,’ where some television personality defines the interrogation, decides who to call on, tells them they have 30 seconds, cuts them off. I mean, how do you get to be the leader of America if you’re already subordinate,” he said.

Liberty’s commencement services have become a forum for conservative politicians. Last year’s address came from presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who used the opportunity to make amends with Mr. Falwell after attacking him by name during Mr. McCain’s failed 2000 White House bid.

It also was the first commencement without Mr. Falwell, the Baptist preacher who established the church-based university in 1971, before founding the Moral Majority, which helped elect Ronald Reagan president in 1980.

Despite the somber tone of the day, the more than 3,500 graduates who covered the football field chanted “Jerry, Jerry” in tribute to Mr. Falwell.

The service also marked the first time his son, Jerry Falwell Jr., addressed the students as the college’s new chancellor.

“I didn’t plan to say anything today because we’ve all been crying all week,” Mr. Falwell’s son said.

“No one can replace Dad, but,” he said before he choked with emotion. Applause rippled across the crowd as he struggled to regain his composure. “… But there’s a team here ready to carry on, and we’re going to give it everything we have, as he did for so long.”

Mr. Falwell intended Liberty to be his most enduring legacy. He envisioned it as a “Protestant Notre Dame,” projecting fundamentalist Christianity for generations. He saw it as a training ground for conservative politicians, lawyers and judges — warriors in what Mr. Falwell perceived as a cultural war against liberals, homosexual rights, legalized abortion and forces he saw as a threat to Christianity. Mr. Falwell took pride in national championships Liberty’s debate team has won.

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