Jerry Falwell Jr. Explains Why Liberty University Students Had to Attend Ted Cruz’s Announcement Rally

“It is no secret that Convocation is held three times a week and attendance is required, just like class is required for students.”

Sen. Ted Cruz stands on stage while speaking to a crowd gathered at Liberty University to announce his presidential candidacy on March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, Virginia. 
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
March 23, 2015, 2:47 p.m.

LYNCHBURG, Virginia — Just hours after Ted Cruz announced he was running for president here, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. was defending the fact that nearly 10,000 of his school’s students had served as the backdrop while attending a mandatory school event.

“It is no secret that Convocation is held three times a week and attendance is required, just like class is required for students,” Falwell said in a written statement. “No one is expected to agree with every speaker on every point.”

Falwell issued the statement after reports, in National Journal and elsewhere, that a group of students supporting Sen. Rand Paul had protested the mandatory attendance at Cruz’s campaign kickoff by showing up in “Stand with Rand” t-shirts.

“The fact that some students attended the service wearing t-shirts supporting another potential candidate shows that our students are not indoctrinated; they are free — and encouraged — to form their own opinions about what they hear in Convocation and to express it,” Falwell said.

Cruz’s speech was well received by the Liberty crowd, and he was interrupted repeatedly by applause. “I should, however, point out that standing ovations are not required. Students are free to cheer or boo as they see fit,” he said.

Falwell noted that “speakers do not all line up with traditional Evangelical Christian viewpoints or even Liberty University’s doctrinal statement. A fundamental part of the college experience is being exposed to a variety of viewpoints so students can better understand why they hold their own beliefs and be better prepared to defend them.” Indeed, Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was originally scheduled to address the students on Monday.

Falwell also complained about media outlets that had quoted anonymous posts on social-media sites, such as Yik Yak, to capture the feelings of the student body. “It is irresponsible to take anonymous social-media posts and assume that they are students or are representative of the entire student body,” Falwell said.

He went on to cite a conversation he had after Cruz’s speech with an unnamed student. “A pre-med student, who is a Democrat, came up to me and shared his appreciation for Convocation and how we bring in such a diverse panel of speakers,” Falwell said.

Here is Falwell’s full statement:

Convocation is not a worship service. Convocation is Liberty’s educational forum for students to hear from speakers with a wide diversity of viewpoints from all walks of life — entertainment, business, politics, ministry, and more — many of whom are globally respected as experts in their areas. It is no secret that Convocation is held three times a week and attendance is required, just like class is required for students. No one is expected to agree with every speaker on every point. In fact, Convocation speakers do not all line up with traditional Evangelical Christian viewpoints or even Liberty University’s doctrinal statement. A fundamental part of the college experience is being exposed to a variety of viewpoints so students can better understand why they hold their own beliefs and be better prepared to defend them. Liberty intentionally gives every student this opportunity to become well-rounded on important matters of faith and culture.

The fact that some students attended the service wearing t-shirts supporting another potential candidate shows that our students are not indoctrinated; they are free — and encouraged — to form their own opinions about what they hear in Convocation and to express it.

I should, however, point out that standing ovations are not required. Students are free to cheer or boo as they see fit. I also think it is irresponsible to take anonymous social media posts and assume that they are students or are representative of the entire student body. 

It fills me with great pride, then, to see that our students consistently provide such a warm atmosphere for every speaker who comes to campus, regardless if they agree with them or not.

Right after Convocation today, a pre-med student, who is a Democrat, came up to me and shared his appreciation for Convocation and how we bring in such a diverse panel of speakers. He said that he appreciated the opportunity to hear from Sen. Cruz so close to his announcement to run for president. He appreciated that Liberty was chosen as a platform for such a prominent moment. The student told me that he enjoyed the speech and even found some common ground with Senator Cruz on many issues.

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