Democratic presidential candidate and self-described Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has announced that he will be a convocation speaker at Liberty University, a conservative Christian school deeply influential among Republicans.
On Wednesday evening, the Sanders campaign released a statement publicizing his intention to speak on September 14 at the evangelical Christian bastion in Lynchburg, Virginia. The speech is scheduled to take place as part of a series of talks at the famously conservative school, which is also the nation’s largest private non-profit university with around 74,000 students.
“Liberty University was kind enough to invite me to address a convocation and I decided to accept,” read the statement from Sanders’ campaign. “It goes without saying that my views on many issues — women’s rights, gay rights, education and many other issues — are very different from the opinions of some in the Liberty University community. I think it is important, however, to see if we can reach consensus regarding the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in our country, about the collapse of the middle class, about the high level of childhood poverty, about climate change and other issues.”
Other listed convocation speakers — all of whom are scheduled to deliver talks sometime between August and December — include several influential conservatives, including Duck Dynasty stars Korie and Sadie Robertson, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Heritage Foundation head Jim DeMint.
The choice to speak at Liberty University, founded by evangelist and conservative icon Jerry Falwell, is highly unusual for a Democratic candidate. The school is better known as a sought-after pulpit for Republican White House hopefuls: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush delivered the commencement address at Liberty earlier this year, and Ted Cruz (R-TX) launched his presidential campaign in the university’s auditorium in March. Past speakers also include onetime GOP presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney.
The school does reportedly invite Democratic politicians and candidates to speak on occasion, including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton, according to CNN. But most don’t even reply, much less accept.
Yet even as Sanders’ campaign acknowledged that the crowd at Liberty might not be friendly to the Vermont Senator’s positions, they insisted a candidate should be willing to speak to unfriendly audiences.
“It is very easy for a candidate to speak to people who hold the same views,” the statement read. “It’s harder but important to reach out to others who look at the world differently. I look forward to meeting with the students and faculty of Liberty University.”
Some of Sanders’ ideas might even be welcomed by students and faculty at Liberty: The school has been criticized for opposing progressive policies while also directly benefitting from Democrat-led efforts to expand federal financial aid.