President Trump is returning to Liberty University.
The university recently announced Trump would be delivering this year’s commencement keynote address, marking the first time a President has headlined the ceremony since George H.W. Bush in 1990.
The decision comes as little surprise considering the friendship between Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. and Trump. Falwell was an early backer of Trump’s presidential campaign and since then has stayed close with the president with Falwell’s family visiting Trump in the White House last week.
“We are at a crossroads where our first priority must be saving our nation. We need a leader with qualities that resemble those of Winston Churchill, and I believe that leader is Donald Trump,” Falwell said last August. “As Churchill did, Trump possesses the resolve to put his country first and to never give up in a world that is increasingly hostile to our values.”
Not everyone at Liberty University agrees. Falwell’s backing of Trump during the presidential campaign led to turmoil both on the Liberty University board of trustees and among the student body, who formed the campus group “Liberty United Against Trump,” drafting a petition that received 2,000 signatures from the 15,000 student population.
“A commencement speaker’s supposed to be a capable, intelligent, respectable figure who students can look up to and aspire to become, and today we live in a world where the President of the United States doesn’t even meet those qualifications,” Liberty United Against Trump founder Dustin Wahl said recently to Time Magazine.
However, Falwell said he’s proud of the message having Trump speak sends. “A lot of universities choose political correctness over academic freedom, and I’m proud that Liberty’s not like that.”
Trump’s previous January visit to Liberty caught national attention both for the significance of a prominent evangelical figure backing a deeply divisive candidate, and because of Trump’s instantly infamous “Two Corinthians” gaffe. A year later, the announcement has attracted far less attention due to Trump’s continued popularity in the evangelical community.
“His supporters, including over 80 percent of the evangelical community, are thrilled with President Trump’s actions so far,” Falwell recently told CBN news. “The fact that the mainstream media and the Establishment (on the left and the right) remain in attack mode with their often baseless and dishonest claims against Trump is a sign that President Trump is doing a wonderful job.”
However, some conservative voices have been critical of Falwell’s support. “In his private life, Falwell may be a devout man, but in his role as Donald Trump’s flatterer, defender and attack dog, he has pushed Christ to the rear,” Peter Wehner of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center said. “His politics are damaging his public Christian witness.”