Liberty University, Founded by Televangelist Jerry Falwell, Gets Record Fine for Campus Safety Violations

Inside Edition/March 7, 2024

By Deborah Hastings

Liberty University, the fundamentalist Christian college founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell, gets record $14 million fine from the Dept. of Education for violating campus safety laws and punishing women who reported sexual assaults, investigators say.

Liberty University, a Virginia-based conservative Christian college, has agreed to pay an unprecedent fine of $14 million for violating federal campus safety laws and punishing female students who reported sexualt assaults, the Department of Education said this week.

The university was founded in 1971 by fundamentalist televangelist Jerry Falwell. It bans premarital sex, romantic relationships between people of the same sex and outlaws drinking alcohol and smoking. It also enforces strict dress codes preventing women from wearing dresses or skirts that don't reach the knee, and prohibits all students from wearing tennis shoes, flip-flops and hats on campus.

The Education Department released a 108-page report detailing its findings for imposing the record-setting fine. In a statement, the university said it has “repeatedly endured selective and unfair treatment by the department."

Liberty will pay the $14 million penalty, it said.

The fine is by far the largest ever levied under the Clery Act, a law mandating that universities and colleges that receive federal funds must collect and report campus crimes.

Federal investigators reviewed the college's handling of such cases from 2016 to 2023 and determined Liberty had repeatedly underreported or misclassified crime reports, the report said.

“This was especially common with respect to sexually based offenses, including rape and fondling cases,” the review said.

As an example, investigators cited a woman who had reported being raped by man who said he had a knife.

A campus police investigator determined the report was unfounded, saying the "victim indicates that she consented to the sexual act," the Education Department report states.

But federal investigators determined that was not the case. "In point of fact, the victim’s own statement merely indicated that she ‘gave in’ in an attempt to get away from the perpetrator," the survey says.

Many sexual crime survivors feared reporting their attacks because of reprisals, the review said. Several were punished for violating “The Liberty Way,” a code of conduct prohibiting premarital sex, while their assailants were left unpunished, the report said.

“Consequently, victims of sexual assault often felt dissuaded by Liberty administration’s reputation for punishing sexual assault survivors rather than helping them,” the review said. “Such fears created a culture of silence where sexual assaults commonly went unreported.”

The university also violated federal law requiring university and college administrators to notify the public of credible campus threats, according to the review.

It cited a case in which a campus officer was disciplined for issuing an emergeny alert for a credible 2016 campus bomb threat.

"At that time, the most senior officials were concerned about the attention that the notice generated and took steps to ensure that the issuance of Emergency Notifications did not become a common occurrence," the review states.

The campus officer was "subjected to disciplinary action for issuing the notice even though it was issued in conformity with Federal law and the institution’s published policy at the time," the report said.

Liberty said in its Tuesday statement that it is “fully committed to maintaining the safety and security of students and staff without exception.”

The college acknowledged past instances of “incorrect statistical reports, as well as necessary timely warnings and emergency notifications that were not sent," but said it had taken steps to rectify those safety concerns.

The report also said the university promoted its campus as one of the safest in the country, but maintained little data on campus crime reports and provided statistics not substantiated by official records.

In 2021, sexual assault surviors sued Liberty, saying campus authorities had ignored their reports. The next year, a dozen woman settled with the Lynchburg institution in an agreement that remains private.

In a statement at the time, Liberty said it was committed to improving safety measures to "make things right" with the plaintiffs." The women were not identified in their lawsuit. The university, in its statement, said it had spent $8.5 million in security upgrades including brighter lighting and installing campus phone boxes to report assaults, and was instituting changes to the way it handled sexual assault reports.

That incident followed another scandal. Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of founder Falwell, resigned in 2020 amid a sex scandal involving his wife.

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