I’ve always said that government is only bad insofar as it doesn’t work for your self-interests. Very often, people only rally against the parts that don’t benefit them, while betraying their principles and happily using big government for their own causes.
We saw this when conservatives were largely silent during Bush’s eight years of largess, only to be up in arms once the other side took the mantle of heavy spending; and we see it with liberals who decried Bush’s concentration of power to the executive branch, at the expense of our civil liberties, only to look with other way as Obama has continued – and even intensified – these same policies.
And so it is with the religious conservatives of Liberty U, whom, like many on the right, drape themselves with the American flag, maintain visceral hostility to government, and seem to hold the constitution to be the most sacred written work after the Bible.
For those who don’t know, Liberty U is one of the largest private universities in the country, and perhaps the single largest Evangelical Christian one. It was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, who was infamous for controversial and intolerant beliefs, and was a major figure among the Christian Right (if not one of it’s principle founders). He was also highly critical of government, while his flagship university is ironically propped up by it – to the tune of nearly half-a-billion dollars.
During the last fiscal year alone, Liberty received about $445 million in federal financial aid money, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Over the past few years, Liberty University has raked in so much taxpayer money from the federal government that is now ranked among the top ten universities in the United States receiving federal dollars. It is also Virginia’s top recipient of federal money.
In a 2009 piece for RH Reality Check titled, “Why is the Federal Government Supporting Evangelism?” Eleanor J. Bader pointed out that LU’s [Jesse] Helms School of Government “crows that it turns out ‘Christ-centered leaders, able to apply God’s word in every area of life.’ What’s more, LU’s webpage showcases its mission, promising students an ‘action-oriented curriculum dedicated to world evangelism and repudiation of political correctness.’
“Not sure what that means? The site explains: ‘A strong commitment to political conservatism, total rejection of socialism, and firm support for America’s economic system of free enterprise.'”
Since it doesn’t get much more religiously oriented than Liberty University, a fair question to ask is: Should a private sectarian institution be receiving federal funds?
“The short answer is that it would be difficult — if not impossible — to challenge the government grants going to Liberty students,” Rob Boston, Senior Policy Analyst with Americans United, told me in an e-mail exchange. “This can be difficult area of the law. The Supreme Court has always been more lax on aid to religious colleges than it has been on aid to secondary schools. In years past, the court has held that tax aid cannot go to institutions deemed ‘pervasively sectarian’ but that such aid was permissible for those schools that were judged to be ‘religiously affiliated.’ This test has begun to erode at the high court, however, under the conservative majority. Complicating the matter is that the fact that many conservative legal scholars argue that Pell Grants are actually aid to the student, not the school — an argument that has been embraced by the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc.”
Keep in mind that NPR, which the GOP was very riled up about de-funding, took in a little less than $3 million dollars in federal dollars as of 2010. Indeed, there are plenty of cash-strapped social programs or public schools that could certainly use just a third of all that money, yet we see their budgets getting readily slashed, while little to no acknowledgement is made of LU’s egregious absorption of public funds.
So aside from being constitutionally specious – given the long established separation of church and state, it’s rather wasteful: this is a school that teaches Young Earth Creationism and churns out ultra-conservatives that go on to condemn gays and continue the contempt for the very government that funded their education.
Granted, as was pointed out in an article in Salon, this money isn’t necessarily going to the school itself but to it’s students, through Pell Grants.
That massive sum was thanks to the growth of Liberty’s online program, which enrolled 52,000 students last year. The school is the No. 1 recipient of Pell grant money in the state of Virginia. While it may seem like the federal government is basically subsidizing this formerly financially challenged ultra-conservative religious private school, LU’s executive director of financial aid sees it differently:
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.”
And I’m sure ACORN, Planned Parenthood and NPR feel the same way.
So for the sake of fairness, maybe it is a gray area (though I disagree with it). What say you all? I for one can’t help but find this interesting in light of Liberty U’s main mission statement, which I’ll reiterate here:
A strong commitment to political conservatism, total rejection of socialism, and firm support for America’s economic system of free enterprise.
You don’t say. Where do Pell Grants fit into the idea of free enterprise? For a longer, though more leftist and angry rant, feel free to check out another take on this.