Home Christian News Rachael Denhollander, Liberty Students to Hold Rally Calling for Abuse Investigation

Rachael Denhollander, Liberty Students to Hold Rally Calling for Abuse Investigation

Rachael Denhollander
Liberty University's Sparky the Eagle is seen before an NCAA football game on Nov. 14, 2020, at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia. (AP Photo/Shaban Athuman)

(RNS) — A group of Liberty University students and alumni plans to hold a prayer rally on the school’s campus in Lynchburg, Virginia, on Thursday (Nov. 4), calling for an independent, third-party investigation of Liberty’s handling of sexual assault and harassment cases.

Abuse advocate Rachael Denhollander will speak at the rally, which will coincide with a dinner for Liberty’s board of trustees, which meets this week.

Denhollander, a former gymnast whose testimony helped lead to the conviction of former USA Gymnastics coach and serial abuser Larry Nassar, has become a leading voice in addressing sexual abuse among evangelicals.

This past summer, a group of 12 women, including former Liberty students and employees, sued the evangelical Christian school, alleging that its policies made it “difficult or impossible for students to report sexual violence.” In late October, the school’s former spokesman also filed a suit, claiming he was fired after criticizing school leaders, including President Jerry Prevo, for how they responded to sexual assaults on campus.

In addition, a recent ProPublica story said that several students who reported assaults were warned that they could be punished for violating the Liberty Way, the school’s honor code, which limits meetings between male and female students.

Under former Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr., speakers who called for prayer rallies that criticized the school were banned from campus. In 2018, campus police escorted Christian author Jonathan Martin off school property the night before a planned protest, a decision Falwell later defended. Author and speaker Shane Claiborne was also barred from campus.Denhollander plans to hold a news conference at the Craddock Terry Hotel in Lynchburg before the rally, with Dustin Wahl, founder of the Liberty alumni group Save17; former Liberty professor Karen Swallow Prior; and members of Justice for Janes, a student group calling for campus reforms at Liberty.

Wahl said he hopes school officials will allow the prayer rally to go forward.

“We feel that someone of Rachael’s caliber will be listened to,” said Dahl.

A university spokesman said outsiders are not allowed to protest at the school.

“Liberty University’s campus activities are reserved for residential students, faculty and administration. Demonstrations that are planned well in advance, for which space is requested and reserved are permitted on Liberty University’s campus, as long as they involve residential students, not the general public,” the spokesperson told Religion News Service in a statement.

Organizers said they still plan to move ahead with the rally despite the statement from the university and that Denhollander still plans to be there.

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Bob Smietana is an award-winning religion reporter and editor who has spent two decades producing breaking news, data journalism, investigative reporting, profiles and features for magazines, newspapers, trade publications and websites. Most notably, he has served as a senior writer for Facts & Trends, senior editor of Christianity Today, religion writer at The Tennessean, correspondent for RNS and contributor to OnFaith, USA Today and The Washington Post.