Controversial Legislation Divides SGA
Liberty University Student Government Association is experiencing division as the House of Delegates has been trying to pass taboo and controversial bills, many of which directly contradict the Liberty Way.
Among the resolutions that were proposed last semester was one to allow foul language, another to allow drinking off campus and another that would allow consumption of tobacco products. These bills were all passed by the House of Delegates but were either shut down by the Student Senate or vetoed by SGA President Caleb Johnson.
“When (the drinking bill) came to my office I was completely shocked,” Johnson said. “I immediately wrote ‘denied’ as soon as it hit my desk.”
Johnson said the House of Delegates has a different, more libertarian mindset and that it is responsible for the boundary-pushing legislation.
“I believe the reason for this legislation is due to a trickle-down ideology from house leadership,” Johnson said. “There’s leadership all throughout the house that is really geared to ‘no-rules.’ The people in house leadership want us to become more like Baylor. They want us to strip away the Liberty Way.”
Vice President of SGA Jared Cave is also surprised by the type of legislation the House of Delegates is pushing forward but thinks it may be wishful thinking because of the curfew revisions SGA helped pass last year.
“It kind of baffles us how many pieces of legislation have come through that are not going to happen,” Cave said. “I think SGA has always had a little bit of a track record for wanting to repeal rules. It started with the curfew stuff, but I think it’s always had that past. More recently it seems like there is more legislation that is trying to get passed to allow cussing or alcohol or tobacco.”
Despite the unrest members of SGA are experiencing, Speaker of the House of Delegates Caleb Fitzpatrick is seeing unity in the house as the resolutions are passing.
“Most of these resolutions that have fallen under this taboo category have passed pretty darn close to unanimously,” Fitzpatrick said. “These are coming from delegates from all sorts of backgrounds, and I think it’s indicative of where the student body as a whole is right now.”
The House of Delegates is comprised of students from all groups on campus, as they are tasked with representing the student body. As result, Fitzpatrick said, the legislation that is being scrutinized is honest to the opinions and wants of some Liberty students.
“The resolutions are not written to change the culture at the school,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’re written to accurately represent what the culture actually is to the world. The idea behind them is not, ‘Hey, we should allow kids to drink,’ it’s, ‘Kids are drinking, let’s not give the world a false representation of what life at Liberty University is,’ because if you’re a student and you come here expecting no one to drink, there will be a harsh reality you run into.”
Fitzpatrick said the resolutions facilitate good discussion about topics that are generally not spoken about due to the threat of repercussions.
Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Hine said students should be encouraged to discuss risqué topics, but he does not believe changing the Liberty Way to allow swearing or drinking would reflect well on the school.
“When somebody talks about allowing smoking or swearing it’s like, ‘Really, is that what you want Liberty to be known for?’ Just because 1,000 students want it, it doesn’t mean you necessarily get it,” Hine said. “Life just doesn’t work that way in general, and I’m not sure I can fully understand why you would want your school to say, ‘Oh yeah, that’d be just fine and dandy. Let’s use vulgar language.’”
Regardless, Hine said the resolutions do not disturb him as long as people are constructive in their discussions.
“As long as people are civil and respectful … I don’t think that discourse is necessarily something we should be afraid of or try to suppress or squash,” Hine said.
Johnson said the split between the executive branch and House of Delegates of the SGA is dividing the organization into factions.
“SGA doesn’t have parties but you could say that this libertarian or anti-Liberty Way has just grown,” Johnson said. “I’m not exactly sure why it has grown.”
Johnson plans to address this issue in a possible SGA State of the Union Address that he plans to deliver either through a memo or in public sometime this semester.
“I can present my concern, where I think SGA is, the state of SGA, and presenting what I think is going to be beneficial,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping that whatever I do will at least inspire some change because I don’t want SGA to become the department at Liberty that just hates the Liberty Way and hates the rules and hates the fabric that Liberty is built on.”
Fitzpatrick agrees that there is a divide, but disagrees on what the cause is.
“I think the divide is not as much vision for the university or opinion for how the student body sits (but) I think the divide is centered around whether or not there is a way to respectfully dissent,” Fitzpatrick said. “Whether or not falling in line is appropriate at all times. I think people are so afraid of conflict and of disagreement that they forget it’s the foundation of democracy and of progress.”
Johnson said the House of Delegates needs to reassess their values to serve the student.
“I would like the House to truly start thinking about what is best for students,” Johnson said. “I know the SGA doesn’t have parties, but it’s starting to look like there is.”