Liberty University has revoked its recognition of the campus Democratic Party club, saying “we are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by” the university.
“It kind of happened out of nowhere,” said Brian Diaz, president of LU’s student Democratic Party organization, which LU formally recognized in October.
Diaz said he was notified of the school’s decision May 15 in an e-mail from Mark Hine, vice president of student affairs.
According to the e-mail, the club must stop using the university’s name, holding meetings on campus, or advertising events. Violators could incur one or more reprimands under the school’s Liberty Way conduct code, and anyone who accumulates 30 reprimands is subject to expulsion.
Hine said late Thursday that the university could not sanction an official club that supported Democratic candidates.
“We are in no way attempting to stifle free speech.”
Hine said the university had recently completed a policy that would govern clubs and organizations on campus.
“We looked at each club and organization to determine where it stood and unfortunately this one kind of got in the sights of policy, if you will,” he said.
Hine’s e-mail mentioned that he had expressed a concern to Diaz about the national Democratic Party’s platform during a meeting earlier in the semester.
Last fall, Diaz said, Hine had complimented the club for being a faith-based organization working within the Democratic Party.
Jan Dervish, secretary of the club, and Maria Childress, its staff adviser, said they met with Hine after the revocation and asked for a further explanation.
“He said it wasn’t us. It was the national Democratic Party,” which the campus club’s constitution supports, Dervish said. The campus club also opposes abortion and supports the traditional view of marriage, Dervish said.
“His bottom line was, ‘You can’t be a Democrat and be a Christian and be a university representative,’” Childress said.
Hine denied saying that.
Part of Hine’s e-mail said, “The Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of Liberty University and to Christian doctrine (supports abortion, federal funding of abortion, advocates repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, promotes the “LGBT” agenda, hate crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc.)” LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Mark Lawrence, chairman of the citywide Lynchburg Democratic Party, called The News & Advance Thursday after he learned about the revocation.
“My issue with this is the statement that the Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of Liberty University and to Christian doctrine,” Lawrence said. “They are essentially saying, ‘you cannot be a Christian and a Democrat.’”
Lawrence said he doesn’t personally support every plank in the party’s platform, and many Democrats also have their own differences with the document, which is assembled every four years for the national convention.
Hine’s e-mail said, “The candidates this club supports uphold the platform and implement it. The candidates supported are directly contrary to the mission of Liberty University.”
The goals of the Democratic Party and LU “run in opposite directions,” the e-mail said.
LU has had a College Republicans club for several years.
Claire Ayendi, who was chairman of the Republican club last year and graduated this spring, said she didn’t regard the university’s disbanding of the Democratic group as a political act.
“I think it’s more like a moral issue,” Ayendi said. “Letting a club like that exist goes against what the school is founded on,” she said.
Democratic Party club adviser Childress, an administrative assistant in the university’s honors program, said she sees her role as supporting students, especially their academic status.
“I love and support the university,” said Childress, who earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from LU in 2004. “But my support is to the students as well. My number one goal is protecting them,” she said.
Dervish said he asked Hine whether LU would let him work off campus in Democratic Party activities. Dervish said Hine told him and Childress that students’ activities outside the school were not affected by the university’s decision to revoke the club’s recognition.
In a written statement sent to The News & Advance Thursday night, Hine said, “Among other things, Liberty University stands for the sanctity of human life. The loss of human life through abortion is a great tragedy and we cannot remain silent when the political policies or politicians themselves promote the destruction of innocent human life.
“While those who are members of the LU Democratic Club are well intentioned and honorable, the platform and policies of the national Democratic Party and the candidates supported by that party, and thus the student organization itself, are inconsistent with the mission of the University.”