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Liberty reacts to parking issue during Obama visit

August 21, 2008 : Mitzi Bible

Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. was watching the local news on TV Tuesday night when he learned that the Barack Obama campaign had announced there would be parking available at The Plaza shopping center for Wednesday’s town hall meeting at nearby E.C. Glass High School.

The shopping center is owned by Liberty University.

“As a 501(c)(3), we can’t take a position in a campaign,” he told students, faculty and staff at Wednesday’s convocation service. “I don’t want to break the law, we can’t support a campaign, so I told them, no you can’t park there.”

Under the Internal Revenue Code, the university cannot claim tax-exemption if it supports a political campaign.

Liberty University police officers and security were stationed at the Plaza Wednesday afternoon to make sure only Plaza shoppers were parking there. They directed people to park at City Stadium.

In reaction to the issue, Falwell released this statement today: “We were never contacted [by Obama’s campaign]. … We told the Obama people after convocation [on Wednesday] that they could rent whatever spaces were not already in use by the retailers. They opted instead to move their parking to City Stadium.”

In an interview with WSET TV Wednesday evening, Falwell said the university would take the same stance for all political candidates.

“It’s true we’d be a little more tempted to help on the other side, but the law says we can’t, so we feel like we’re being transparent about it,” he said.

Falwell said the university had no problem renting out spaces for use by the Obama campaign.

“For example when one of our presidential candidates spoke here recently he used our [the university’s] plane and immediately paid us the full value of that flight even though he was speaking at Liberty,” Falwell told WSET.

Liberty has hosted four presidential candidates in recent years. U.S. Sen. John McCain spoke at Liberty’s graduation in May 2006; Alan Keyes, a former Assistant Secretary of State, spoke at convocation last September; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke in convocation in November 2007; and U.S. Congressman Ron Paul was the convocation speaker in February.

Falwell has said the university has not played favorites and wants students to be well-informed voters.

After Paul’s visit in February, Falwell said: “Liberty’s a university and we’re here for educational opportunities, it’s more important here than anywhere else to hear all sides, so we invited all candidates.”