Liberty University is increasingly being drawn into the spotlight as the nation takes notice of its status as the world’s largest Christian university and its success in creating a business model focused on teaching excellence using a unique blend of traditional and online delivery. This model defies current trends in U.S. higher education by keeping tuition and fees affordable while building financial strength for the university without subsidies from taxpayers.
Once considered a small Bible college, the university has grown up, maturing into an athletic and academic powerhouse, drawing politicians and world leaders to its campus and piquing the interest of media and business moguls.
Financial services companies have written about the university’s growth and financial stability. Moody’s Investors Service, which gave the university’s taxable bonds an “A1” rating, cited its “uncommonly strong operating performance,” and Standard & Poor’s, which assigned an “AA” rating, anticipated that Liberty “will continue to enjoy strong student demand with a successful brand centered on an evangelical Christian identity and attractive pricing for a nonprofit private university.”
Recently called “one of the nation’s most influential citadels of Christian conservatism” by USA Today and “the evangelical heart of the state” by the Boston Globe, Liberty is gaining national recognition, further illuminating its mission to Train Champions for Christ.
The New York Times, intrigued by Liberty Flames football, published a recent glowing article featuring the up-and-coming program. The reporter was fascinated with both the success of the program, highlighting its readiness to move to the NCAA Division I FBS conference, and the character of its players. In light of recent scandals publicizing other collegiate football programs, Liberty stands in sharp contrast.
“Maybe we usher in a new era of athletes who set a good example for other college athletes and students,” sophomore Sean Beam said in the article. “How good would it be if there was a college football program that practiced what it preached?”
Taking a stand is nothing new to the university. Many major media outlets across the country took notice of Liberty’s strong stance on moral principles when the Supreme Court decided on Nov. 26, 2012, that the school’s case challenging the constitutionality of ObamaCare could go forward. At one point that day, nearly 100 news stories per hour were being generated about the case.
While the university tackles current legislation, its students are being prepared for future courtroom battles. Liberty University School of Law’s moot court team continually wins national competitions. Their trial team is ranking regionally and competing nationally in their inaugural year. Liberty’s debate team, repeatedly ranked No. 1 in the nation over Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Emory, has been featured on the “CBS Evening News” and in The New York Times.
The echo of well-educated voices of faith has reached Washington — and Washington is paying attention. Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have visited Liberty’s campus, as well as Republican VIPs Gov. Sarah Palin and Herman Cain. Gov. Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate and 2012 Commencement speaker, stated: “He (Falwell, Sr.) believed that Liberty might become one of the most respected Christian universities anywhere on the earth, and so it is today.” Romney’s confidence in Liberty’s influence was unmistakable when he made Lynchburg one of the last stops on his campaign trail the day before the 2012 election.
Over the last two election cycles, Republican hopefuls John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Perry have addressed the student body. Donald Trump, who considered a run for presidency, spoke in September. These leaders appear before the student body — examples of what it looks like to take a stand for what you believe in — and inspire Liberty students to do the same.
The enthusiastic response has been clear. In 2008, Liberty made national headlines when it registered about 4,000 students to vote in Virginia. In October 2011, election lines in Lynchburg were redrawn and the Vines Center became its own voting precinct. More than 3,000 new voter forms were completed by students during a September 2012 Convocation, and on Election Day the Vines Center precinct tallied more votes than any of Lynchburg’s other 18 precincts.
In a recent Washington Times commentary, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, son of former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, reflected on how his father received strong support from college students on the left and the right, using UC-Berkeley and Liberty as examples as he called for much smaller government and more personal freedoms.
Liberty students are not only supporting those who mold policy and politics, they are joining the ranks themselves. In November, alumnus Matt Krause (’07) won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Jeffrey Mazanec (’85) has been recently appointed the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond division. Many alumni have worked for presidential campaigns and more are serving on Capitol Hill. Like modern-day Josephs in Pharaoh’s court or Daniel in Nebuchadnezzar’s, Liberty students are stepping off campus and into positions of influence that God has prepared for them.
Called “one of the preeminent forums to discuss profound issues,” by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Liberty continues to stay in the news and at the helm of moral, ethical, and political influence in America.
In a recent interview on Moody Radio, Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell, Jr. was asked why Liberty invited Convocation speakers who did not share all of the school’s political and theological views. He confirmed Liberty’s commitment to providing a safe marketplace of ideas: “It is our students’ job to eat the fish and spit out the bones and to discern what is good advice and what is not. And if you don’t learn that in college, when do you learn it?”
Liberty students are being educated with freedom to think, to speak, and to serve. As the school experiences unparalleled success, it remains true to its original Christian mission. This uncompromising commitment is a beacon that continues to draw the attention of a curious and watching world. The university on the mountain, like the city on a hill, shines a light that cannot be hidden.
The merits of Liberty University football have caught the eye of The New York Times and CNBC Sports. Recently showcased by both, Liberty is emerging as a contender, looking to play — and play well — on the gridiron of the FBS, joining the ranks of other teams like Brigham Young and Notre Dame.
A dream of Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr. now carried on by his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., was that Liberty football would propel the school into becoming the flagship university for the evangelical Christian community.
Falwell, Jr. has often said, “Sports is not our mission, but we use sports to shine a light on our mission,” using sports to encourage young people to choose Christian education.
As The New York Times article put it, “There is no pulpit as well-lighted as the end zone of a national championship game.”
In a follow-up to that article, Darren Rovell, of CNBC’s “Sports Biz: Game On,” commented: “Liberty University wants a Division I football team so that others like (NFL quarterback Tim) Tebow can play at the highest level together.”
The New York Times hinted that the highest level might not be so far off.
“Liberty’s locker rooms and training facilities resemble those of a top college program, if not one in the NFL,” the article boasted.
Other teams are reading the Times and taking note. The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president emeritus, sent Chancellor Falwell a note conveying his “sincere congratulations and prayers for continuing growth in the years to come.”
Falwell said that Hesburgh, over his 95-year life, witnessed the vision of Notre Dame’s founders become reality.
“That vision had much in common with my father’s dreams for Liberty University and reading Rev. Hesburgh’s letter about Notre Dame’s rise to athletic prominence made Liberty’s goals seem so much more attainable,” Falwell said. “I am grateful for his letter, and I believe he would welcome a friendly Liberty/Notre Dame football rivalry someday. I know I would!”
From the day President Barack Obama signed his controversial health care bill into law, Liberty University has stood at the forefront of the resistance. Filing the first private lawsuit against ObamaCare in March 2010, and continuing to rise every time the courts knock them down, Liberty has charged that it violates the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause, as well as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. At stake is a clause forcing every employer to provide federally mandated insurance, which would then require them to fund the abortion-inducing drugs included with this insurance coverage.
In 2011, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia ruled that the federal Anti-Injunction Act barred the courts from discussing Liberty’s case. In June 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that President Obama’s health care bill, as a whole, was constitutional on the grounds that it simply represented a tax on people who chose not to buy health insurance. The bill therefore fell within governmental taxation rights, and all appeals against the law were dismissed. Liberty, undeterred, pressed on.
In November 2012, the persistence paid off. The university’s appeal claiming that ObamaCare violated religious freedom and that vital parts of the lawsuit were ignored by the courts was heard — the Supreme Court agreed to rehear Liberty’s case at the Circuit Court level.
“This ruling is literally an answer to prayer,” said Mat Staver, attorney for Liberty University and dean of Liberty University School of Law. “It means our legal fight against ObamaCare can go back into full swing. It also gives Liberty University the leading case against ObamaCare in the nation and offers new hope for a ruling that ObamaCare is … completely unconstitutional.”