Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a pattern of partisan politics at Liberty University, asserting that Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. used school resources to intervene in a November House of Delegates election.
In a letter to the IRS, Americans United says Falwell and other Liberty officials used the official school newspaper, Liberty Champion, to repeatedly attack incumbent Shannon Valentine and endorse her opponent, Scott Garrett. Garrett won the election by about 200 votes after returns came in from a precinct heavily populated by Liberty students.
“We have documented a clear pattern of partisan intervention orchestrated by top Liberty officials,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “I believe the evidence is clear that Liberty officials have violated the law.”
AU’s letter – the result of more than three months of investigating – makes the following allegations:
• Falwell and other university officials used Liberty Champion, ostensibly a student publication but one that is actually subject to university control, to run a series of articles attacking Valentine and endorsing Garrett.
• University officials twice arranged for a “voter guide” published by the Virginia Family Foundation to appear in the Champion. The guide distorted Valentine’s views and was stacked to endorse Garrett. Copies of the Oct. 27 issue of the newspaper were mailed to all Lynchburg residents.
• On Election Day, Ergun Caner, a top university official, drove around campus with the College Republicans, rounding up voters.
• Falwell and other Liberty officials later boasted that their actions had swayed the election to Garrett. They have vowed to intervene in future elections.
“This is one of the most blatant and dishonest attempts to influence an election by a non-profit religious organization I have ever seen,” Lynn said. “We hope the IRS acts swiftly to stop Liberty’s overt partisan politicking.”
In his letter to the IRS, Lynn noted that Falwell has vowed to repeat these partisan activities.
“Indeed, Falwell has already stated that he hopes the results of the Nov. 3 election will impact the decisions of the Lynchburg City Council elections,” wrote Lynn. “The audacity of this move is, I submit, nothing short of breathtaking.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.