Lynchburg, VA - Not everyone was happy to see Ted Cruz at convocation.
A group of Liberty students are making national headlines for what they wore to Monday's event.To those watching Cruz's announcement, it would appear he had thousands of young voters there cheering his decision to run for President.But students ABC 13 spoke to say today's convocation painted a false picture of that support base."I just think it's unfair. I wouldn't say it's dishonest, but it's approaching dishonesty," said Titus Folks.Liberty students are required to attend weekly convocation services - or face a fine and possible disciplinary action.So they had to show up, whether they supported Cruz or not.In protest, one group of students wore shirts that say "I Stand With Rand" - referring to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.The group handed out several dozen of those shirts right before convocation started and they can be seen wearing them in several television shots from the event.They say they believe students should not have been forced to attend what they call a political rally.
"Liberty currently doesn't let you skip unless you have a doctor's note and I don't think that's a very gracious policy for the students," said student Eli McGowan.
Political leaders from both sides of the aisle have been invited to convocation often over the last several years.Governor Terry McAuliffe was originally set to be Monday's speaker, but students say they were told Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr. asked McAuliffe to share the stage with Cruz - which the governor declined.Falwell says convocation has always been a forum for speakers from quote "all walks of life."
Here is the statement Falwell released Monday in response:
"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."