Letter to the Editor
WUSA9, a local DC CBS affiliate, recently reported that five high school debate teams will boycott Virginia state finals taking place at Liberty University due to comments made by Liberty President Jerry Falwell regarding radical Islamic terrorism. Seriously? Do they honestly fail to see the irony in their decision to boycott a debate because they disagree with the position of another person? And a grossly misinterpreted position, at that. According to the report, McLean student Fatima Shabaz (or Shahbaz or Shahbbaz; her name is spelled each way in the original report), Falwell labeled “an entire faith (Islam) as terrorists, as violent, as extremists.” Falwell, of course, never made such a blanket statement, and for Shabaz to claim so displays ignorance or a willful disregard for truth.
On December 2, 2015, fourteen people in San Bernardino, California were murdered by two Islamic terrorists. Days later, Falwell promoted both the lawful concealed carry of handguns and personal self-defense against Islamic terrorists. To many, this was common sense, but Shabaz accuses Falwell of “promoting ideas of Islamophobia.”
In another twist of irony, Shabaz, an apparent staunch defender of religious liberty, posits that Liberty should be disqualified from hosting state tournaments because it is a private religious institution. She points out that the Virginia High School League (VHSL) runs the debate competition and uses tax dollars to organize the debate and other tournaments. State tournaments should be held, therefore, at public institutions like VCU, UVA, or William and Mary, according to Shabaz, because they are “accredited public institutions.” Liberty is a fully accredited private institution, and it does not charge VHSL to use its facilities. One might reasonably conclude that her proposition is Christophobic. Prohibiting a Christian university from hosting a public debate smacks the First Amendment on two cheeks. Which one do we turn?
In the WUSA9 report, fellow McLean student Jessica Boyer agrees wholeheartedly with Shabaz. Boyer said she hopes that she and Shabaz can “create a dialogue that’s against (Islamophobia).” I may be wrong, but shutting down debate — literally — doesn’t seem the best way to “create a dialogue.”
In addition to Liberty’s rampant Islamophobia, the university’s weapons policy is also “problematic,” according to Jim Dunning, debate coach at Broad Run High School. However, it is beyond debate that gun-free zones are the sites of most gun violence in America, including public schools from the elementary to college level. So in one final turn of irony, I hope these students can find a safe space for their debates, but given Liberty’s pro-Second Amendment stance on guns, I doubt they will find a safer space than Liberty.
Dr. Daniel Howell Professor of Biology