The news that Liberty University shut down the school’s College Democrats club probably isn’t as surprising as the news that Liberty University had a College Democrats club in the first place. After all, the Lynchburg, VA-based school was founded by the late Jerry Falwell and isn’t exactly known for its political diversity.
Still, Liberty College Democrats president Brian Diaz says that when the group first got approved by the administration last fall, its first meeting drew more than 50 students. “I was shocked when the university accepted our application,” he says. “But when all those people showed up to our inaugural meeting, I was excited beyond belief.” The club spent last fall organizing for Obama, has been involved with Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign, and has co-sponsored events with College Republicans, including a town hall on Darfur.
Last Friday, however, Diaz received an email from Mark Hine, the school’s vice president of student affairs, informing him that the College Democrats were being shut down because “we are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by” Liberty. Diaz and his fellow Democrats may no longer use the university’s name, advertise events, or meet on campus.
Again, none of this is shocking–although according to Diaz the decision came without warning. And the private school is within its rights to withdraw support for a student group. But the cat’s already out of the bag. Last spring I met a young woman from Liberty who made her mother drive her to Charlottesville to hear me speak because she had read an op-ed I wrote about being an evangelical and a liberal. She was an Obama supporter and a Democrat, but until she read that piece, she had worried that there was something wrong with her faith, that she wasn’t a good Christian.
It’s harder to feel that way when there’s a critical mass of other people just like you. So even if the College Democrats have been shut down, the idea that theologically conservative Christians must be Republicans has already been challenged. Diaz says that when the College Democrats set up a table at a recruiting fair last fall, “people were a little confrontational, asking us how we could call ourselves Christians and be Democrats.” But when they did the same thing this past semester, the response was different. “Now it’s more like, ‘That’s interesting–let me talk to you and hear why you’re a Democrat.’” That new openness to political diversity will be harder to shut down.