The News & Advance, a paper out of Lynchburg, VA, reports that Liberty University tops the state in federal financial aid dollars, receiving $445 Million in federal financial aid last year. (Salon points out that this is more than the Corporation for Public Broadcasting gets.)
I’m not going to the obvious place with this. While I’m not thrilled by the idea of government money being used to educate the next generation of fight-picking social conservatives, Liberty University is not particularly less entitled to federal student aid than many other religious schools, and I’m not sure I’d want to be the one to draw the line and say “This religiously-affiliated school is lame; this other one is worth our federal dollars.” And as long as we allow all religiously-affiliated universities to draw federal aid equally, our commitment to the separation of church and state is probably not hampered. (There’s also an argument to be made that yesterday’s awful Puritans are today’s liberals; Harvard’s president in the 1600s was a clergyman who indirectly took part in the Salem witch trials. I don’t know if that excuses anything, but it certainly makes Harvard’s Women’s Studies department more interesting, doesn’t it?)
But I would like to make two points. First, I find the debt-based nature of federal student aid ethically dubious as a general rule, and even more so for a supposedly Christian organization; students are encouraged to take on truly massive, life-crippling amounts of debt for education and are rarely given an accurate idea of what that debt will translate into as either a percentage of their likely post-graduation income or as a total figure once interest is paid. You’d think maybe sincere Christian pastors would think twice about luring young members of their into a life of penury and servitude to the houses of Mammon, especially given the Biblical strictures against usury, but then again Liberty’s debate team is very highly ranked, so I’m sure they’ve got a rationalization at the ready for that unscrupulous method of “laying up treasures upon earth.”
But here’s the second point. At least some of the federal money flowing into Liberty’s coffers comes in the form of grants — i.e., money that is not paid back to the government — and at least some percentage of Liberty students who take out federal loans will end up defaulting on them, probably when those students finally flee the church, embrace atheism, and discover pot. A non-negligible amount of taxpayer money, in other words, goes to Liberty, never to return.
And here is where Liberty has put itself into an unfortunate place. Left-wing blogs (including this one) observed with undisguised glee the pathetic rhetorical squirming by financial aid officer Robert Ritz as he struggled to resolve suckling at the government teat with overall “conservative” principles:
For Ritz — a financial aid veteran who got his start at a small Bible college — Liberty’s use of federal financial aid does not run counter to the university’s conservative values. Liberty does not receive the federal money directly, Ritz said, but through students, who use it to pay for tuition, room and board and other expenses.
“These funds are authorized by Congress and Congress is elected by voters. . . I’ve always been in the position where I believe I’m a steward of those federal funds. I’m a steward of tax-payer money.”
There is, of course, no contradiction at all between being Christian and taking government money. But there is a contradiction between being “conservative” and taking such money, and the major players at Liberty, and most especially the late Jerry Falwell, have consistently and energetically thrown their lot in with conservatism and the Republican party.
You might expect that followers of a big commie like Jesus, attempting to model themselves on His collectivist Apostles, might support a modest socioeconomic scheme of redistribution and sharing for the good of all, such as is customarily supported by liberal Democrats. But because Falwell and his Liberty U. cohort are far more anxious to squash the five D’s (Drinking, Dancing, Dead Zygotes, Dude-On-Dude Love, and ‘Dult Magazines) than they are to feed the hungry or clothe the naked, they have consistently aligned themselves, instead, with the party and the movement that relentlessly concerns itself with reducing government services to the needy. The Republican party has very sensibly adopted the sexual-morality agenda of social conservatives to keep them tightly wedded to the anti-tax and anti-government libertarian agenda which might not otherwise be their natural concern.
Falwell himself gave an exact description of his view of the difference between the parties on Meet The Press in 2004:
In the midst of the values talk, Tim Russert, the moderator of “Meet the Press,” quoted from a recent Newsweek article that states that Marc Cherry, the creator of the hit television series “Desperate Housewives,” is “a somewhat conservative, gay Republican.”
Dr. Falwell said, “Well the fact that he’s a gay Republican means he should join the Democratic party.”
It’s this equation, gay=Democrat=gay=evil, that brought Falwell (and now Liberty U., his institutional trace in the world) squarely under the Republican banner. An unChristian alliance — judgemental social policy welded to libertarian fiscal policy — defines modern conservatism, and it’s their embrace of the latter in order to have clout to enforce the former that makes the management of Liberty U. hypocrites, and that causes the left to take such delight in passing around this article. If they did not so consistently support a party and candidates firmly committed to eliminating government subsidies for the poor, small children, pregnant women, and the elderly, there would be no shame in Liberty taking government funds.