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Thursday, April 2, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Let’s set the record straight: The leftist media bias against Liberty University and President Jerry Falwell Jr. is hypocritical, but it’s also dangerous.

Just like the libelous assault against Nick Sandman and the Covington Catholic High School students last spring, many activist-journalists believe the pandemic gave them a permission slip for unleashing vile campaigns against religious groups.


Anyone following the news cycle over the past two weeks cannot help but notice the continual headlines punching at Liberty University. Their outrage stemmed from Mr. Falwell’s decision to accommodate students returning from spring break, even as the university transitioned its residential program to online courses. This afforded international students and students with nowhere else to go the essential housing and food services they needed and had paid for. It also made it possible for these students to “stay put” and stay safe.

From the start, Liberty took painstaking measures to ensure full compliance with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive orders and applicable federal guidelines. The school also closed the campus to the public, posted extra security around the clock, transformed all dining options into carry-out, and posted signs everywhere to remind students of social distancing requirements.

And yet, The Washington Post wrote that Mr. Falwell showed a “staggering level of ignorance.”

But it’s baseless and absurd to suggest that Liberty University did not take the threat as seriously as other universities.

Even as Liberty received the full brunt of media contempt, many colleges and universities have enacted similar measures and precautions to respond to the challenge of COVID-19. They too have accommodated students who have little or no other housing options during the national emergency. At nearby Virginia Tech, school officials estimated that between 900 to 1,000 students returned to campus housing to resume apartment living and access to VT buildings and dining services.

Likewise, Texas A&M University in College Station resumed a class schedule through online only and reopened the campus to returning students. Campus services, such as housing, dining and health services, remain open and available to students under CDC guidelines. Texas A&M is one of the largest public universities in the nation, with 68,000 resident students and 11,000 students housed on campus.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To date, New York, New Jersey and California make up over half of the confirmed cases of COVID-19, and they account for more than 50 percent of U.S. fatalities, too. There’s no doubt that the correlation of population density and mass transit systems is a major factor in the spread of COVID-19.

So, when you read these numbers and all the media reporting, you’d expect New York and California to have the most restrictive measures of any state in the nation. After all, California Gov. Gavin Newsom made headlines as the first governor to issue a “stay-at-home” order on March 19 — with legal enforcement against the “most serious violations impacting health and safety.” He was followed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who issued a similar executive order on March 22.

Given all that, consider what public universities in California and New York are doing as of today. 

Pomona College, located within the nation’s largest county of Los Angeles, decided on March 22 to reverse an earlier decision and permit students to stay on campus in residence halls. This was after student activists, organized under “Occupy Pomona,” pressured the administration to allow some 100 of its 1,663 students to remain on campus who had no other housing options. The administration issued health guidelines that allowed students campus dining options.

Similarly, UCLA’s campus buildings, housing and dining facilities are open to provide services to remaining students during the quarantine. One Cal State Los Angeles student from Detroit said that two members of his family became ill from COVID-19 while traveling by airplane, and they determined it was too risky for him to leave campus housing.

California is home to the largest public university systems in the country with three major systems. All told, there are almost 150 campuses that educate more than 2.5 million students. And while most of California’s public universities and colleges have moved their courses online, dormitories throughout have stayed open for out-of-state, international, and transient students. Just like Liberty University chose to do. 

Where is the outrage against the California universities?

Similarly, New York state has two major university systems (SUNY and CUNY), with 90 campuses and about 700,000 students. On March 11, they announced that a majority of classes would be moved to online, with the exception of classes where labs were required. While students were encouraged to stay at home, SUNY and CUNY left campus housing open to allow students with certain requirements and hardships to come back to campus. Mr. Cuomo said, “They are not evicting anyone. They are not closing the dorm and kicking you out.”

Again, that’s what Liberty University chose to do. So, where is the outrage against New York universities?

Liberty student Joey Bantseev wrote on Instagram: “On behalf of all the missionary kids and international students, I would like to express sincere gratitude and appreciation to [President Falwell]. The gracious provision of food and shelter on campus during a season of crisis when we need it most and have no alternatives has been a tremendous blessing.”

Liberty junior Kara Edmonds, who lives on campus, stated to The College Fix: “I feel that Liberty has been doing a great job of keeping everything safe and healthy and sanitary. In all the dining halls, they are following all the Virginia rules. They only let in 10 people at a time, they’re making you stand safe distances apart, they are taking the necessary precautions. … We have had custodial come in and clean bathrooms twice a day.”

Mr. Falwell and Liberty University have chosen the most difficult path in a crisis, the right one. President Falwell has said that Liberty is “embracing its responsibility to care for students instead of running away and pushing the COVID-19 problem off on others.” 

Mr. Falwell and the university are bearing the cost of public excoriation from a media salivating at any opportunity to prosecute the case against evangelicals, especially the largest evangelical university in the world. They are also bearing the cost of providing around-the-clock services to ensure the health and safety of students who choose to remain on campus come first.

While over half of COVID-19 cases and fatalities are in New York and California, this did not stop The New York Times from running a witch hunt story on Sunday against Liberty University, with the original headline “Liberty University Brings Back Its Students, and Coronavirus, Too.” This article came on the heels of a similar, toxic op-ed in The Times originally titled “The Road to Coronavirus Hell was Paved by Evangelicals.” After the damage was done, the “paper of record” later changed both headlines.

Without any official verification from any Liberty University officials or students, Elizabeth Williamson wrote that students on campus were testing positive for COVID-19. Dr. Thomas Eppes, a Lynchburg native with no official position or employment at Liberty, was quoted as saying the virus “could not be corralled.” He later denied ever having said to NYT reporters that a dozen students contracted COVID-19.

Make no mistake. COVID-19 has emerged as one of the most significant challenges to the nation and the world that we have seen in a generation. These are trying times. 

Mr. Falwell and Liberty University have taken shrewd measures to provide safe accommodations to students with nowhere else to turn. No doubt Jerry Falwell Jr. has borne a tremendous burden of public vitriol from media who consistently display a deranged political bias. They strike at Liberty University because of what it represents in the conservative movement in America, and because of what it seeks to do as a leading evangelical institution in the 21st century. 

COVID-19 is the talk of the national news each day and for good reason. But Liberty University has done nothing deserving of the slings and arrows thrown at it by activist journalists. Had they done honest reporting in the first place, they might have realized as much. Then again, maybe not, and that was always the point. 

• Charlie Kirk is the author of the #1 national bestseller “The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future” and host of “The Charlie Kirk Show”  and co-founder of the Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty. Ryan Helfenbein is the vice president of communications and public engagement at Liberty University and executive director of the Falkirk Center for Faith & Liberty.


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