Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Liberty" U.

Heavy-handed tactics. Censorship. Suppression of dissension. Refusal to recognize legitimate political organizations whose ideals are different from their own. Sound like something snatched out of news headlines about the oppressive government of a distant land? Maybe the junta in Myanmar, one of the last Communist bastions of China, perhaps? Try the administration of the ironically named Liberty University, right here in Lynchburg, VA.

This week, the College Democrats club at Liberty U was informed via email that their recognition as a university organization was no more. They were, for all intents and purposes, told "their kind" wasn't welcome on campus. Reasons cited included the national Democratic party's support of abortion, socialism and the "LGBT agenda," referring to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. The email went on to say that, even though the campus club "may not support the more radical planks of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party is still the parent organization of the club on campus."

I fully understand that Liberty University is a private school, funded by private money and, as such, has every right to control what organizations it allows to operate under its purview. I can see why the right-wing religious contingent might not sanction a Young Satanists chapter, for example. But, seriously? One of this country's two major political parties? You can't find room at the table of brotherly love for a healthy debate with the party that represented almost 60% of your countrymen's views last fall? Hmm. This kind of insular, head-in-the-sand approach is exactly what a university education is supposed to prevent. Hopefully, by the time a young person has attended four years of college, he or she at least understands and respects opposing viewpoints and is, subsequently, more grounded in what he or she believes. The fact that this university is trying to prevent student exposure to viewpoints that don't coincide with its neo-conservative social agenda is problematic on many levels. It smacks of Big Brother protectionism at best, brainwashing at worst.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr, apparently channeling his father who once famously said, "Textbooks are Soviet propaganda," among hundreds of other gems, cited "lots of complaints from parents and donors" about the club in a statement to the Associated Press. He went on to say that he hopes these "great Christian kids" find a pro-life and pro-family Democratic organization "so they can become endorsed." In other words, he hopes that they come to their senses and form a campus organization that is an elephant in a donkey suit. Preferably one whose idea of free speech happens to coincide with the neo-conservative ideal of, "He who is not for me, is against me." It is a mindset that is at once McCarthyist, xenophobic and virulent in its protection of its socially conservative morays. It seems that campus officials have decided to suppress one viewpoint out of fear that the young, impressionable students might not be able to choose the "right" path, when actually given a choice. I have to ask, what are you so afraid of? Liberty means "the right to act, believe or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing." At Liberty U., there's an asterisk beside the word. The fine print reads, "as long as that coincides with what we want you to believe and do."

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