Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Time for "Liberty University" to Lose its Tax Exempt Status

So Liberty University, a "conservative christian" school (i.e., not a real university) in Virginia has just banned a small Democratic Party club from campus. Another outrage from the far right. I really hope the Obama administration acts quickly to remove their tax-exempt status, as this is exactly the kind of politicking that non-profit organizations are not permitted to engage in if they wish to be tax-exempt.


Dr. Strangelove said...

The action by Liberty University is petty and laughable. It adds to the joke that is their so-called "university." They are correct that the Democratic Party espouses values antithetical to an evangelical madrassa like Liberty University--e.g., truth, justice, and liberty--but I am not clear as to why closing down this student group ought to cost them their tax-exempt status.

Liberty University is not actively campaigning for any candidate. Rather they are preventing a certain group of students from actively campaigning for certain candidates while using the school's name and facilities. They are permitting the college Republicans to organize on their campus, but I thought that was acceptable. They are not a public school so they need not be content-neutral in determining which student activities are permissible in their quasi-public space.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S., I believe LTG is talking about a series of judicial rulings that require universities that accept federal funding in the form of grants (and tax exemption?) not discriminate against student groups. Various right wing groups (even those considerably less main stream than the youth wing of a major political party) have used this to their advantage for years.

I hope this won't stand. If it does, I believe it opens the door to retaliatory discrimination against right wing groups. It should also provoke the banning of ALL religious organizations on public university grounds.

The Law Talking Guy said...

It's not necessarily a constitutional problem of state action, which Dr.S mentions. Although there are problems with it of that kind.

I am also not referring to whether acceptance of federal grant money is conditioned on providing content neutral public space (or whether it makes you de facto a state actor).

The problem is that donations to universities are tax-exempt as charitable donations, so long as the universities do not endorse or oppose candidates or political parties. A university could not, for example, sponsor a Republican voter registration drive. To officially ban one party and condemn its candidates is over the line.

Recall similarly that in 2005, a move was made by the Bush IRS to revoke the charitable-tax-exemption for All Saints' Episcopal Church in Pasadena for an anti-war sermon made on the eve of the election. The Bush IRS said it condemned him by name, was thus electioneering of a sort, and began to investigate revoking the exemption. The same never happens for right wing Southern Baptists who use their churches as political bunkers, of course. But even this should be too much.

Bob said...

Stop saying that Liberty University is not a real university, or putting university in sarcastic quotes, please.

Liberty University is accredited by SACS,tehe same body that accredits the university I work at, and the university my wife works at.

I'm not proud of this. But university status is not defined as "the elite institutions like the one I went to." It's defined by accrediting bodies like SACS.

You are right to criticize Liberty University all you want. But without clarifying your issues with its accreditation process, your scoffing at its university status is simultaneously scoffing, without justification, at the status of scores of other colleges and universities.

Anonymous said...

Most religious schools cater to the right wing sub-species anyway. Why bother any discussion with them at all, when they just need to be approached in a more direct way.

Anonymous said...

Typical leftist thinking. A Christian university cannot morally condone an organization that supports abortion.

So, tax the hell out of them.

Morons, all.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Bob: In my opinion, an institution whose mission is religious indoctrination rather than the pursuit of knowledge deserves to wear the sarcastic quotes, because it is not operating in the spirit of a university. It was not my intention to imply it was not accredited.

But the inference is understandable and so I apologize. Let me affirm that Liberty University is indeed properly accredited. And it was certainly not my intention to scoff at other institutions with the same accreditation.

Getting back to the original point,
I still do not see why, to maintain its tax-exempt status, a religious institution must permit its members to associate its name with--and use its facilities in support of--a political party which that institution feels is in opposition to its particular religious sect. As I understand it, tax-exempt organizations can take all manner of political stands--they just are not permitted to directly campaign for specific candidates. Liberty University certainly has not done that here.

Raised By Republicans said...

"Typical leftist thinking. A Christian university cannot morally condone an organization that supports abortion.Typical leftist thinking. A Christian university cannot morally condone an organization that supports abortion. Morons, all."

Typical rightist thinking. My principals are sacrosanct, yours are "moronic."

Why should right wing, Christian universities be allowed to discriminate against secular organizations with which they disagree but if a public university ever said that Christian student groups couldn't use public facilities for religious activities (a technical violation of the Constitution) and there is a great wailing and gnashing of teeth?

The Law Talking Guy said...

Bob, I don't see why accreditation is the end of the question as to educational quality. I don't think Liberty University fits the definitional criteria for a place of real education other than its accreditation. Its goal is indoctrination, not education. It does not tolerate intellectual dissent or diversity, nor does it encourage it. That is not university-level education.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR, Christian universities ARE allowed to discriminate against organizations with which they disagree. I really don't have a (big) problem with Liberty University doing this. But when the discrimination is against one of the two major political parties, that's politicking, and we have rules saying that if you engage in politicking, you lose tax-exempt status. That is why my ACLU donations are not tax-deductible, but my public radio donations are tax-deductible (minus the premiums, of course). My church does not support or oppose political candidates or parties, which is why donations to it are deducted under the charitable donation rule.

It bothers me a little that we, as Christians, are put in a bind of either speaking our minds in opposing right-wing candidates or risking our tax-exempt status. Why should the state be, essentially, paying off churches to be politically mute?

There should be a better way. But as long as the rules are as they are, Liberty University should pay the price for its political actions. It should be treated like the ACLU or other political organizations whose donors pay taxes on their donations.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR, I understand the question as to why a "private" college should be able to discriminate but a "public" one cannot. I put the words in quotations because a review of their finances will discover that the share of money coming in from government sources (including government-backed student loans) ain't a whole lot different between them.

That being said, I stand by the principle that the First Amendment imposes limits on what public universities do. The question really is whether so-called private universities should be automatically considered "not state actors" without some discussion of financial realities. Probably yes, but there is room for discussion.

Raised By Republicans said...

"It bothers me a little that we, as Christians, are put in a bind of either speaking our minds in opposing right-wing candidates or risking our tax-exempt status. Why should the state be, essentially, paying off churches to be politically mute? "

But is that all the state is doing? Isn't the problem that only left-wing churches are so treated? Right wing churches engage in political activity of all sorts from "get out the vote" activities to issuing voter guides to giving politically charged sermons from the pulpit and get away with it. Taking the double standard into account the state is using my tax dollars to subsidize the political activities of organizations with which I disagree.

Bob said...


You're suggesting an argument I felt I was clear I wasn't making.

I criticized your description of Liberty University as "not a real university" and Dr. S's putting "university" in quotes. I was pretty specific that Liberty University is "a real university" in that it's accredited.

I didn't say anything about its educational quality, or the relationship between accreditation and educational quality. (I will now, in response to you.)

You, on the other hand, responded by claiming "I don't think Liberty University fits the definitional criteria for a place of real education other than its accreditation." How am I to interpret this, other than that you presume that the accreditation process that gives _my_ university the right to call itself a university has _no_ correlation with "the [other] definitional criteria for a place of real education?"

I treasure the ideals of intellectual dissent and diversity. Indeed I treasure this blog, which by and large encourages them. But this blog isn't a university. I would argue that more "definitional" would be courses in a variety of subjects, taught with a certain degree of academic competence and rigorously assessed.

I'm not defending Liberty University here, except to say that SACS has sent academics from other universities to audit Liberty University's mission, curriculum, administration, etc., and they've decided to accredit it. The same process was applied to my university.

You claimed that Liberty University is not a real university, precisely because it is a "`conservative christian' school". Do you have other reasons to disregard the process SACS used to accredit Liberty University and its other member institutions? Or is the apparent rejection of intellectual dissent and diversity sufficient?


On a somewhat different topic, would you deny the "real university" status of any school that asserted a particular religious point of view, a Catholic school for example?

USwest said...

I am late to this discussion, but several things come to mind.

1) I started thinking about Pepperdine in Southern Cal which has a reputation of being conservative and Christian oriented. Correct me if I am wrong on that point. But it is part of the UC system.

2) Also, didn't schools like Liberty arise because conservatives perceived that most other universities were bastions of secular liberalism? Think Berkeley (which is actually more Conservative these days than people think. Where do you draw the line? American University in Washington was fairly neutral, but was a Methodist school that received public funding via student loans. And you hardly noticed it was religiously affiliated but for the chapel on campus. The same can be said about Georgetown. Religiously sponsored schools can evolve into places that entertain diverse points of view even if initially they did not. Liberty may eventually evolve as well, especially as the far right recedes.

3) Voucher programs that allow parents to use public money to send their kids to private religious schools. What's up with that? Where do you place that on the spectrum of church vs. public spending?

4) In the local Catholic Church, they preach all about pro-life and mention that parishioners should vote for Pro-life candidates and the like. They never say, "Vote McCain", but they might as well do so. You can do the same thing in a university. Classrooms are platforms for influencing people just like churches are. So in that regard, LTG's point is well taken.

5) In Europe, the state actually gives Churches and their affiliated schools money. The French now find that they have to give Muslim organizations money just as they do Catholic organizations.

6) Does the accreditation process take into consideration the balance in views at a university? Or just if views are "academic" enough to be acceptable? In other words, is the packaging or the actual content that matters to accreditation boards?

Dr. Strangelove said...

FYI, Pepperdine University is a private Christian college in Southern California; it is not part of the UC system.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Why does accreditation make something a real university? State accreditation does little more than assure that the institution is not a diploma mill.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think the problem people have with Liberty U. is that it seems to place much higher value on ideological conformity than intellectual integrity.

I work in one of those universities thought to be secular and liberal. And there is no ideological litmus test for hiring or admission. That is not the case at places like Liberty. If Liberty had the choice between hiring someone who was tops in their field but not a committed right wing movementarian, they would not hire them. I have a problem with any university that bases hiring on that kind of thinking. Peperdine comes close to doing that but they only require demonstration of some religiosity, they much care about the details.

I know it makes me unwilling to give the Liberty U.'s of the world any slack.

As for accreditation. Lots of rotten colleges get accredited in all regions of the country. It doesn't mean that all institutions accredited by the same organization are rotten though. So I don't think any offense was intended to Bob's college.

Bob said...

I will assume that LTG is willing to assume that my university is "a real university", and try to be un-offended. But I think I was reasonable to assume that the typical standard for whether something is a "real university" is whether it's been accredited as such, through the peer-review that scholars depend on.

If you want to argue that Liberty University shouldn't be accredited, because its mission is so at odds with the principles of learning a university should represent, then make that argument. You've been very clear and specific on why its political actions should render donations to Liberty taxable. I think you could make the bolder argument that it shouldn't be accepted as a university, rather than just asserting the claim as if you were the sole arbiter as to what's a university and what isn't.

If you were to make that argument, then (as I mentioned before) I'd like to know if you thought any school defined by a religious mission would qualify as possessing sufficient acceptance of intellectual diversity to be a real university. I'm interested to know where you believe the line should be drawn, in other words.

Bob said...

I meant to include this with my comment, because I thought it was interesting, although it might just cement people's current opinions.

Here's an announcement of a position at Liberty University. On the one hand, their teaching expectations are very typical of a math position at a teaching university. On the other hand, they are quite upfront about their ideological demands. I wonder if/how they find professors in the more reality-based sciences.

USwest said...

Then hit them for discrimination in hiring and withold public funds. Gee, I wonder how manu Christian conservative blank women there are out there with degrees in math and science?

Thank you for clarifying my Pepperdine mistake. I confused it with Irvine.

Raised By Republicans said...

Bob, thanks for posting that advertisement. It really highlights where Liberty's priorities are.

This isn't a university, it's a madrasa.

Anonymous said...

Here is the link to the official press release from Liberty University's chancellor.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Bob - I was making that argument in very shorthand form with the sarcastic quotes and so forth. I didn't think that was really at issue. I have no idea what universities you and your wife teach at, but I never meant to cast aspersion on them. I will presume that the schools you teach at have more to boast of than a mere accreditation.

I suppose my comments are colored by the fact that I'm a lawyer, and I hate the fact that some people think that as long as you're a member of the bar you deserve respect. That includes way, way too many sleazebags.

Anonymous said...

Wow, fear breeds hate. I go to Liberty and any religious courses are given from the standpoint that the student is a non-believer and poses objective arguments from both sides, leaving the student to decide and openly debate their conclusions. Read the "Unlikely Disciple" by Kevin Roose, a non-believer who actually attended. There were many who fit the stereotype among those he went undercover to attend with, and those who surprised him. Seems like all the people here fighting for equality and not imposing beliefs would be a little more open to a University that clearly spells out it's ideaology before someone applies. Are you threatened by it's existence, or just angered by it's beliefs in contrast to your own?

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Anonymous said...

I go to graduate school at Liberty University, and though there are several aspects of the school that I'm not proud of, I have see first hand why exactly the "club" was banned.
When Obama won the election, they incited a good amount of harsh criticism of anyone against Obama, engaging in several activities that were direct violations of the "Liberty Way", which they agreed to follow when they came (Not to be racist, but typically were the African American students who took on an attitude of superiority and became quite disrespectful and borderline intolerable)
Second, Liberty U. refused to allow the club to use the Liberty University name because of the general support of the Democratic party in pro-choice, homosexuality, and denial of freedom that are direct conflicts of Biblical teaching and the Liberty Code.
The students refused to acknowledge questions directed toward those topics, and instead, as is typical of Liberals, immediately accused the school of being biased against them, or racist. In reality, the school was simply enforcing an agreement each student signed. If they have an issue with the policy, go to a different school that is fine with the death of innocent babies. It's that simple. But accusing a school of enforcing a mutual agreement is simply unreal to me.
Liberty has invited both Republican and Democratic politicians to speak, though the Democrats refuse on a regular basis. They have never endorsed a candidate. In fact, they had a convocation dedicated to encouraging the students to research each candidate, match the candidates against the students' beliefs, and vote based on their conscience.
Lastly, if being founded on Biblical principles makes Liberty University a fake university, then does it make America a fake country?

Anonymous said...

Liberty University is a Christian College. The Democratic Party supports Abortion, and also supports removing God from public. A Christian College can not support these anti-religous movements.

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Anonymous said...

I realize that I am way late to the conversation, but I'll chime in as I just found this post this morning.

I am currently a graduate student at Liberty University and a Democrat. Shocking I know. Recently I submitted a paper that took a side that is not very common with right-wing leaning Christian institutions, such as the way in which Liberty University is being portrayed. The professor graded my paper satisfactorily. In his comments on the matter he wrote that he was glad to see me take a stance that is uncommon and then explained why he disagreed with my position, while also conceding that I argued my point satisfactorily. I ended up with an A on the paper and an A overall in the class.

This tells me that, perhaps, some of the people at Liberty are in fact biased and looking to indoctrinate individuals. However, not all have that aim. In fact, I would argue that some of the top secular schools do much of the same type of indoctrination in regards to matters of debate if an unfavorable side or position is chosen. The fact is that both sides have a hard time listening to the other in such matters, but not all.

With that, Liberty may indeed not deserve to have tax-exempt status. If it were my way, no one would be tax-exempt. Instead, everyone and every organization would pay in their fair share of taxes within reason.