Rod Snyder, Mid-Atlantic Region Director of the Young Democrats of America, sent an email to Liberty University’s Vice-President of Student Affairs about the ban of the Young Democrats club. This led to the following email exchange, in which Falwell Jr. himself responds.
From: Rod Snyder
Sent: Friday, May 22, 2009 5:14 PM
Subject: Letter to Mark Hine regarding the Liberty University Young Democrats
I was disappointed when I learned this afternoon that the Liberty University College Democrats has lost its recognition as an official campus organization. As an Evangelical Christian and a Young Democratic leader, I am personally offended by the decision of the university and, more importantly, by the underlying assertion that a person cannot be both a Christian and a Democrat.
I attended Christian schools throughout my entire educational experience, including a non-denominational high school in West Virginia and a Baptist university in Pennsylvania . During college I interned at the Faith and Politics Institute on Capitol Hill, which facilitates racial harmony in Congress and non-violent conflict resolution around the world. Over the past several years, I have served in various leadership roles at my local church. Much of my adult life has been spent advancing the notion that neither the Republican nor Democratic Party has a foothold on the Christian faith.
Admittedly, my faith deeply informs my politics. I am a Democrat because I believe in social justice. I believe that every man, woman and child has a basic right to healthcare, a living wage and a basic standard of living. I believe that war and violence should be used as a last resort. I believe that every human being has intrinsic value and that discrimination is never warranted. I believe that our Creator has given us a responsibility to be stewards of His creation. But I would never assert that the Christian faith exclusively belongs to the Democratic Party, and I expect the same level of respect and deference from my fellow believers in the Republican Party.
It goes without saying that the Democratic Party represents a diverse set of interests and constituencies. My own political positions do not necessarily align with 100% of the Democratic Party platform, and I would assume that most Republicans do not necessarily agree with the entirety of their national Party’s policy stances. However, to block students from organizing with likeminded classmates deprives them of a fundamental right of political expression and curtails important discourse on your campus and in your community.
The Liberty University code of conduct states that students “may not engage in any activity on or off campus that would compromise the testimony or reputation of the University”. I would allege that this ill conceived decision does more to damage the reputation of the University than the actions of a group of students who are earnestly wrestling with how to best live out their faith in the political arena.
I respectfully request that the Liberty University College Democrats be permitted to continue as an officially recognized student group and be allowed to support those candidates and issues they believe to be consistent with their values.
Furthermore, I intend to investigate the legality of a religious institution that only officially recognizes the activities of one political Party on campus. The precedent is troublesome, and I hope you will reconsider your decision.
Director, Mid-Atlantic Region
Young Democrats of America
From: Jerry Falwell
To: Rod Snyder
Cc: Staver, Mathew ( Law School ); Hine, Mark (VP StudentAffairs);
Sent: Friday, May 22, 2009 5:50:09 PM
Subject: FW: Letter to Mark Hine regarding the Liberty University Young Democrats
You have been misinformed about LU’s position and its actions regarding the Democratic Club on campus. Mat Staver or Mark Hine will reply in detail later but I told the press today that the student members of this club are good Christian kids and friends of mine. We do not believe and have not stated that one cannot be Christian and Democrat. We are encouraging this club to affiliate with Democrats for Life or some similar organization so that we can endorse them once again. Even if they remain affiliated with the DNC, they will not be prevented from meeting on campus or having a club. They just cannot use LU’s name because of the DNC’s position on abortion.
Jerry Falwell, Jr.
From: Staver, Mathew ( Law School )
To: Rod Snyder
Cc: Jerry Falwell; Hine, Mark (VP StudentAffairs)
Sent: Friday, May 22, 2009 6:26:32 PM
Subject: RE: Letter to Mark Hine regarding the Liberty University Young Democrats
We have never said that you cannot be a Christian and a Democrat. We know many Democrats who are Christians, and we know many Republicans and Independents who are not, and vice versa. Christianity is not confined to a political party, nor do we believe that salvation depends on your political affiliation.
We have categorically denied that statement that suggested we said you cannot be a Christian and a Democrat. The problem is some media sources ran with certain unsubstantiated reports. Fortunately, the Washington Post has indicated it will correct its story once it learned the full story. In fact, as I spoke with many media today and explained what we did and did not do, many responded by wondering what was the big issue here. It is much less than what was originally spun to the media. I might note this reached the broad media today via a telephone conference with media sponsored by Terry McAuliffe. The media began calling following that conference and much of the information discussed on that conference was inaccurate.
We applaud Christians and students working in all parties to bring about positive change. These students are good students and we hope they can work within the Democratic Party to advance moral issues, including, but not limited to, the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage. We also hope they can similarly bring about positive change in the Republican Party, or any party of their choice.
The only issue here, and it is a narrow one and not the broad brush that some have run with today, is official recognition, which means use of the University name and funds. The University is reviewing all the clubs, not just this particular club. While students are free to advocate various issues, debate them, and associate with varying political parties, we believe the University is not required to lend its official name to them and underwrite their efforts or avocation of issues that run contrary to the mission of the University.
Thanks for your email and for coming to the source rather than passing on incorrect information. We appreciate that very much.
Mathew D. Staver
Dean and Professor of Law
Liberty University School of Law
From: Rod Snyder
To: Jerry Falwell; Staver, Mathew ( Law School );
Cc: Hine, Mark (VP StudentAffairs)
Sent: Saturday, May 23, 2009 10:28:51 AM
Subject: Re: Letter to Mark Hine regarding the Liberty University Young Democrats
Jerry and Mathew,
Thank you both for your quick responses to my letter to Mark Hine yesterday afternoon. After all of the media coverage of the last 24 hours, there’s probably not much I can add at this point. But I want to make just a few more comments.
The underlying problem is that your university now officially recognizes only one Party organization on campus, which rightfully exposes you to criticism that you are a partisan educational institution. I’m certain this is something you want to avoid for many reasons, not the least of which is the legal questions I raised in my letter yesterday. If you insist on this course of action, I believe a more prudent decision on your part would be to dissolve all partisan groups on campus altogether.
You mentioned that the club could affiliate with Democrats for Life; however, you are presuming that the students want to focus only on a narrow set of policy issues, which I’m sure is not the case. Trust me when I say I completely understand the sensitivity surrounding the abortion issue. But you are making an unfortunate leap of logic to suggest that recognizing an official Young Democrat club at your school ties you to the pro-choice agenda. As an institution of higher learning, your view of political parties is startling narrow.
To take this a step further, I wonder if Liberty University would be willing to review the Republican platform while considering many Christians’ feelings on issues such as the death penalty and the doctrine of preemptive war, etc.
I have many friends who attended Liberty over the years, so I refuse to demonize your administration, faculty or student body. But you have insisted on alienating many of your own students and alumni — not to mention a broader community of Christians like myself who are trying to elevate the level of civil discourse around faith and politics rather than using Christianity as a blunt object in a partisan power struggle.
I genuinely appreciate the fact that you will not forbid the club from meeting on campus or using your facilities. But this gesture is not enough. I ask again that you reconsider your decision.
Director, Mid-Atlantic Region
Young Democrats of America
Thanks to Rod Snyder for giving me permission to post this exchange and for writing such a strong response to the university.
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