Officials at Liberty University fired two student editors with a history of mixed coverage from the institution’s newspaper, the second occasion in which the religious university has come under fire for press censorship.
World, a religious magazine, reported that Bruce Kirk, Liberty’s dean of the school of communication and digital content, in April told the editor in chief and news editor of The Champion that their positions were being eliminated in a “restructuring” of the newspaper.
But administrators replaced the two with a managing editor and an assistant content editor, which were similar to the roles that were cut, World reported.
The editor in chief lost his $3,000-a-semester scholarship. Four other journalists resigned from the paper.
World reported Kirk telling the new round of Champion staffers, “Your job is to keep the LU reputation and the image as it is … Don’t destroy the image of LU. Pretty simple. OK? Well, you might say, ‘Well, that’s not my job, my job is to do journalism. My job is to be First Amendment. My job is to go out and dig and investigate, and I should do anything I want to do because I’m a journalist.’ So let’s get that notion out of your head. OK?”
Liberty is led by President Jerry Falwell Jr., who was criticized in 2016 after he stopped The Champion from publishing a column that slammed then candidate Donald Trump for remarks on the notorious leaked Access Hollywood recording. Falwell, a vocal Trump supporter, said the column was “redundant,” as the newspaper had just run a piece about Trump.
Suppression of student press at religious institutions is well documented. A group of student journalists at Taylor University in Indiana surveyed student reporters at religious colleges and universities and found widespread reports of censorship.