- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2009

RICHMOND | Liberty University’s student Democratic club can continue as a campus group - unofficially.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said Tuesday that a change in university policy will allow the Liberty University College Democrats to exist as an unofficial club. The policy change, which took effect Monday at the Lynchburg school, also changed the College Republicans from an officially recognized campus group to an unofficial one.

The conservative Christian school founded by Mr. Falwell’s late father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, withdrew official recognition of the College Democrats last month because the group supported the Democratic Party’s pro-choice platform and candidates.

University officials said they couldn’t endorse groups that hold positions on issues, such as abortion, that go against the school’s moral principles, and also mentioned that the College Democrats said as a condition of their recognition that they would be a pro-life voice within the party.

The policy change ends weeks of sometimes contentious negotiations.

On Friday, Mr. Falwell said club sponsor Maria Childress could no longer work with the student Democrats because she was convicted of three misdemeanors in May. Ms. Childress said the case stemmed from a domestic dispute with her former father-in-law over visitation with her daughter, and that she believed Liberty was using the convictions as an excuse to get rid of her.

Members of the Democratic club voted Friday to remove her as club sponsor, but Mr. Falwell said she will keep her job as secretary for the university’s honors program.

Club president Brian Diaz resigned Friday and said he plans to transfer to another school. His resignation followed club members’ discovery that he secretly allowed a Young Democrats of America official to listen in on a conference call between them and school officials.

Under the new policy, the unofficial organizations won’t receive school funding but may use the Liberty name and meet in school facilities if members make it clear the university doesn’t officially endorse them. They also aren’t required to have sponsors.

Mr. Falwell said the negotiations with the student Democrats resulted in changes that will allow Liberty to protect its Christian mission while letting campus political groups achieve their objectives.

“We had no policy regulating unofficial clubs before now, and unofficial clubs had no privileges to use meeting rooms on campus,” Mr. Falwell said in a telephone interview. “This policy corrects both deficiencies.”

College Democrats’ secretary Jan Dervish said he is satisfied with the compromise and glad to put the strife behind him.

“I think our end goal in all this was to have exactly what College Republicans have, the same opportunities on campus that our counterparts have,” Mr. Dervish said in a telephone interview. “I think we’ve achieved that with our new status.”

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