Liberty University says the school’s College Democrats chapter can no longer be recognized as an official club because its principles are anathema to the Lynchburg, Va., school’s Christian doctrine and because club officials misled the school.
“It’s a symbolic thing,” said Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. “These are great Christian kids. I sit with them at ball games, they mean well, but they’re not doing what they said they were going to do when they formed.”
He said club organizers promised to stand for pro-life, pro-family causes and to work to move the Democratic Party in that direction, but have instead supported pro-choice candidates who work at cross-purposes to the school’s Christian beliefs.
In the week since the decision, the club has become a cause celebre, being mentioned in Virginia’s Democratic primary for governor and becoming the subject of a fundraising campaign. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who is also chairman of the Democratic National Committee, urged the school to reconsider.
“Americans understand the wisdom of being evenhanded when it comes to matters of expression of political opinion,” Mr. Kaine said in a statement issued by the DNC. “For Liberty University to deprive the College Democrats of the same opportunity as College Republicans to associate and be a recognized as a campus organization violates that fundamental principle of fairness and teaches the students the wrong message about civil life as they move from college into the broader world.”
Terry McAuliffe, one of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination to succeed Mr. Kaine, held a conference call with reporters Friday to criticize the school’s action.
Liberty removed the official designation May 15. The club is not being disbanded, but may not use the school’s name or receive school funding. Students can still meet as a group at the school and use some school facilities.
“We are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University,” wrote Mark Hine, vice president for student affairs, in an e-mail to club members.
“We are removing the club from the Liberty Web site and you will need to cease using Liberty University’s name, including any logo, seal or mark of Liberty University,” Mr. Hine wrote. “They are not to be used in any of your publications, electronic or Internet, including but not limited to, any Web site, Facebook, Twitter or any other such publication.”
About 30 students belong to the chapter.
Outraged over the move, the College Democrats of America Alumni Association sent a fundraising e-mail to 40,000 alumni asking for donations to begin a campaign to support the university’s Democratic club.
Liz Fossett, national co-chairwoman of the College Democrats of America Alumni Association, said the Liberty chapter was formed as a group against the Iraq war.
“That seems to be Christian to me,” she said.
“For a lot of people, College Democrats is a really important organization in their college time. We want to make sure these kids have the same opportunities we did,” she said.
Liberty officials said the chapter was approved in October. Mr. Falwell said that since then, donors, parents, and trustees have complained that the club stood in contrast to the school’s principles.
He said he hopes the students affiliate with another Democratic organization that is pro-life and pro-family.
Mathew D. Staver, dean of the Liberty University Law School, said the school recently began a review of all student clubs to determine which ones should be allowed to keep an official designation.
The College Democrats were the first to be removed under the review.
“Liberty University is not a Republican or Democratic or independent university, but it is true to core values including the sanctity of life and traditional marriage. With respect to that, we don’t want to have the university name and funds used to promote those core values that are contrary to the university mission,” said Mr. Staver, who is helping with the review.
The move comes a week after another religiously affiliated school, the University of Notre Dame, was criticized by conservatives, pro-life activists and many of its own Catholic alumni for inviting President Obama to speak at the school’s commencement and giving him an honorary degree, despite Mr. Obama’s support for pro-choice policies.
Mr. Falwell said Liberty has invited speakers who disagree with the school’s principles in the past, but if Notre Dame had issued a clear statement saying Mr. Obama’s views were not their own, the controversy could have been tamped down.
“That’s where they made a mistake,” he said.