A Severely Conservative University
As we discussed yesterday, Mitt Romney has a radical anti-gay record and agenda. So it’s fitting that tomorrow he will be giving the commencement speech at Liberty University, a radically conservative, anti-gay Virginia university founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell.
How radical? This is who the university’s founder blamed for 9/11:
“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”
(Falwell later issued a pseudo-apology after coming under fire for the outrageous comments.)
Agents of Intolerance
Back in 2000, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) famously denounced Falwell and Rev. Pat Robertson and intimated that elements of the religious right were un-American:
The political tactics of division and slander are not our values. They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country.
Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance.
Unfortunately, in an effort to woo the religious right ahead of his 2008 run, McCain, like Romney, delivered the 2006 commencement address at Liberty and essentially apologized for his earlier comments.
A closer look at Liberty reveals that McCain was right the first time. Last month, ThinkProgress’ Igor Volsky rounded up some of the most inflammatory anti-gay activities of Liberty:
Liberty is heavily invested in the anti-gay and ex-gay movement. The schoolwithdrew from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2010 to protest the inclusion of a gay rights group and hosted a one-day symposium to address the consequences of being gay. The event offered sessions on “[u]nderstanding Same-sex Attractions and Their Consequences” and “Homosexual Rights and First Amendment Freedoms: Can They Truly Coexist?” Liberty University law professors Matt Barber and Judith Reisman have also linked gay and lesbian rights to “the pedophile movement,” while the school’s affiliates describe marriage equality as a “rebellion against God” and claim that gay people are more likely to commit suicide because they know “what they are doing is unnatural, is wrong, [and] is immoral.”
BuzzFeed also flagged one course, “Theology 678 — Western and New Religions,” offered by Liberty that makes Romney’s appearance there somewhat awkward:
The history, doctrines, and present state of the major cults such as Mormonism, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventism. The course will also include a study of the Occult Movement. Emphasis is placed on the errors of these groups and on methods and materials for confronting them effectively.
It seems that such intolerant attitudes aren’t just confined to the school’s sometimes questionable academic offerings:
When Romney was announced as the university’s commencement speaker, many students were outraged that the administration would choose someone who belonged to what they see as a false religion for the occasion. They filled the school’s Facebook page with indignant messages. They penned editorials in the campus newspaper. Some even pledged to boycott the ceremony in protest.
A Throwback to Another Time
Just like Romney’s own views and policy positions, Liberty’s student Code of Conduct seems like a throwback to a bygone era.
Openly gay enrollees are strictly forbidden. The Code of Conduct also prohibits students from engaging in “[n]on-marital sexual relations,” drinking, smoking, watching R-rated movies (it also notes that even some PG and PG-13 may not be appropriate), sunbathing, dancing, cursing and hugging for longer than three seconds. Beds must be made, floors must be vacuumed, dressers dusted, and belongings tidied, with rooms inspected on a regular basis to ensure compliance.
The Code’s restrictions on free speech aren’t limited to cultural issues. It also prohibits students from protesting on campus or distributing any literature or petitions without prior approval from the school’s administration. Students are also prohibited from engaging in any form of activism off campus which would “contradict or otherwise compromise the principles and policies of Liberty University.”
It’s repeatedly noted that the Code is in force at all times and places. University staff members even visit the residences of students who live off campus “in order to ensure compliance.” Students are also required to submit to drug tests at a time and method of the school’s choosing.
Engage in “horseplay?” That’s 4 reprimands and a $10.00 fine. Allow a member of the opposite sex to just set foot in your bedroom? That gets you 18 reprimands, a $250 fine, and 18 hours of disciplinary community service. Ditto for merely associating with someone who drinks alcohol. Guilty of “immorality” (which is not further defined)? That’ll be 30 reprimands, $500 fine, 30 hours of disciplinary community service, and possible expulsion. Decide to have an abortion? All of the above and you’ll almost certainly be expelled.
Talking Points Memo highlights one element of the code that Mitt Romney might be particularly fond of:
When Mitt Romney stands up at Liberty University Saturday to deliver the school’s commencement address, he’s unlikely to be faced with the kind of long, floppy hair that reportedly so angered him in high school. [...]
According to a copy of the school handbook, “The Liberty Way”, shared with TPM by People for the American Way, the rules governing hair on Liberty’s campus are very strict. From the rules for men:
Hair and clothing styles related to a counterculture (as determined by the Student Affairs Deans’ Review Committee) are not acceptable. Hair should be cut in such a way that it will not come over the ears, collar or eyebrows at any time. Ponytails for men are unacceptable.
This might hit a little too close to home for Romney, who is in the midst of shaking off a Thursday Washington Post report that detailed an incident from Romney’s youth in which he cut off a fellow student’s hair while attending the tony Cranbrook prep school in Michigan.
While some elements of student life at Liberty University may seem extreme almost to the point of hilariousness, the brand of intolerance embraced and promoted by the school — and Mitt Romney, it would seem — is no laughing matter.