Thursday, October 20, 2016

Evangelicals and clarifying shocks continued [insert Road to Damascus reference here]

Following up on this, the backlash against evangelical leaders' support of Donald Trump appears to be growing. I think there's a decent chance that Trump may have permanently affected the relationship between the GOP and the evangelical movement.

Here's Scott Jaschik writing for Inside Higher Ed:
[emphasis added]

Liberty University students issued a statement last week criticizing their president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for his endorsement of and campaigning for Donald Trump, even after the release of a video of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women (boasts he describes as "locker room talk"). Falwell responded by issuing his own statement, criticizing the students' views but saying that their ability to speak out was "a testament to the fact that Liberty University promotes the free expression of ideas, unlike many major universities where political correctness prevents conservative students from speaking out."

Despite the rhetoric, the university prevented Joel Schmieg, the sports editor of its student newspaper, The Liberty Champion, from running a column criticizing Trump.


Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said via email that he was concerned about any such censorship -- and he added that such censorship simply isn't effective, either. "Of course, Liberty is a private university not subject to First Amendment constraints, but the best private universities voluntarily maintain a hands-off policy respectful of the integrity of independent journalism. Leaving aside the civic and educational benefits of fostering critical-thinking skills on a college campus, it's just self-defeating in the year 2016 to think you can suppress unwanted ideas by tearing articles out of paper newspapers. When you censor an article in the 21st century, you're just guaranteeing it a wider audience. I doubt many 20-year-old sports columnists are being read across the country, but by censoring Joel's column, the university has exponentially increased its impact. There's nothing more irresistible than journalism powerful authority figures don't want you to read."

A spokesman for Liberty, Len Stevens, reached at home Tuesday night, said he heard about the controversy when President Falwell shared with him texts the president exchanged with his son Trey (as Jerry Falwell III is known). The texts confirmed that the university prevented the column from being published, but did not indicate that President Falwell was involved directly, said Stevens. Stevens said that Schmieg's column was "redundant" with another piece and was blocked because of space constraints, as an "editorial decision." Stevens did not respond to questions about how blocking a column critical of Trump might not be consistent with President Falwell's statements about free expression.

Falwell tweeted last night in a way that suggested he made the decision, and he also cited the issue of redundancy.

Schmieg noted that, as sports editor, he has a regular column that does not compete with other pieces for space. As a result, Schmieg said that he had to write another column when his piece about Trump was pulled. "It's not an issue of space," he said.

And here's Jack Jenkins, Senior Religion Reporter at ThinkProgress

Regardless, the censorship accusation comes as Falwell — a prominent leader of the Religious Right — grapples with a growing movement among students to distance themselves from the his consistent support for Trump. One group, Liberty United Against Trump, launched a online petition last week for those who are “disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history.”

Falwell has dismissed the group as only a “few students,” but the petition now boasts more than 3,200 signatures — 1,700 of whom used Liberty University email addresses — and organizers insist they represent the larger student body.


The group’s organizers also repeatedly referenced an eyebrow-raising statistic: despite Falwell’s endorsement ahead of the Virginia Republican primary, Trump received a mere 90 votes from Liberty students on election, placing fourth behind Rubio, Cruz, and Carson.

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