Jerry Falwell Jr. Slams 'Grandstanding' Students Vowing to Return Their Liberty University Diplomas

| AUG 21, 2017 | 4:11 PM

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There's apparently no better way to stick it to the most powerful man in the world than by sending your own diploma back to your alma mater.

But to Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., the handful of students trying to return their diplomas to the nation's largest Christian college are just “grandstanding to gain five minutes of fame.”

A small group of Liberty graduates told NPR over the weekend they are sending their diplomas back to the university because of Falwell's continued support of Trump in the wake of the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week.

“I'm sending my diploma back because the president of the United States is defending Nazis and white supremacists,” Chris Gaumer, a former Student Government Association president and 2006 graduate, said. “And in defending the president's comments, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making himself and, it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit.”

It should be noted that on Sunday, Falwell spent about seven minutes of a roughly 10-minute interview on ABC's “This Week” condemning the KKK sympathizers, neo-Nazis and white nationalists who participated in the Charlottesville riots, where one woman — 32-year-old Heather Heyer — was killed and dozens more were injured.

Some students, though, seemed to take issue with Falwell's initial praise for Trump, as he called the president's statements on Charlottesville “bold” and “truthful”:

Trump faced criticism from the right and the left for blaming “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, which is about an hour away from Liberty University's sprawling Lynchburg, Virginia, campus.

In a statement to Independent Journal Review, Falwell described the students' decision to return their diplomas as “nothing but a joke and a publicity stunt.”

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“Shame on the media for even reporting,” he told IJR. “If the graduate doesn't like Donald Trump, he should just state that he went to Liberty University and he doesn't like that one of Liberty's leaders supports the president.”

Falwell went on to say it “has absolutely no effect” for students to send their diplomas back because the degrees were earned. The university “will not revoke them or 'take them back,'” he said.

“The vast majority of administration and faculty at Ivy League schools supported Barack Obama,” he noted. “We are all entitled to our opinions as Americans.”

Full disclosure: I'm a Liberty graduate and, for what it’s worth, I plan on keeping my diploma because, regardless of who Falwell supports, I worked hard for my degree.

Falwell was one of Trump's earliest evangelical supporters. He endorsed Trump in January 2016, breaking from other Christian leaders who, at the time, were concerned about the billionaire candidate's brazen rhetoric, marital history, and past support of abortion.

In May, Trump gave his first commencement address as president at Liberty, where he thanked evangelical Christians for their support on Election Day.

“I wanna thank you because, boy, did you come out and vote — those of you that are old enough; in other words, your parents,” he said. "Boy, oh boy, you voted. You voted!”

Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.