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Why these Liberty students aren’t supporting Trump — or Falwell’s endorsement

(RNS) A group of students calling themselves 'Liberty United Against Trump' published a statement online saying they are disappointed in Falwell's endorsement of Trump and tired of being associated with the candidate.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with co-headliner Jerry Falwell Jr., leader of Liberty University, during a campaign event at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa, on Jan. 31, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Dave Kaup

(RNS) In the days after the release of the now-infamous “Trump tape,” after a number of women have come forward to claim Donald Trump assaulted them, prominent Trump backers — including his vice presidential nominee — have spoken out at Liberty University, reassuring evangelical Christians about voting for the Republican presidential nominee.

In five years, it’s not going to matter what Trump said more than a decade ago, Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. said.

It’s about abortion, Supreme Court judges and the Iran nuclear deal, Faith and Freedom Coalition leader Ralph Reed said.

It’s about grace and forgiveness, vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said.

But not all students at Liberty, the world’s largest Christian university, are buying it.

A group of students calling themselves Liberty United Against Trump published a statement online Wednesday (Oct. 12) saying they are disappointed in Falwell’s endorsement of Trump and tired of being associated with the candidate.

“Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him,” it said.

Liberty junior Dustin Wahl told The Washington Post 1,300 students, alumni and faculty had signed the statement he authored, which says “the majority of Liberty students, faculty, and staff feel as we do.”

Allegations of sexual assault, like those leveled against Trump, are not “a shoulder-shrugging issue,” the statement reads, but rather “an atrocity which plagues college campuses across America, including our own.” And maligning others and bragging about sin are ”the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose,” it said.

Back in May, Liberty University board member Mark DeMoss also resigned over Falwell’s endorsement of Trump.

Liberty Student Body President Jack Heaphy tweeted his own letter Thursday evening pushing back against the statement by Liberty United Against Trump, saying the majority of students actually agree with Falwell and respect his endorsement of Trump. Heaphy pointed to “the danger a Hillary Clinton presidency represents and what it could mean for the Christian freedoms we hold dearly.”

And Falwell continued to defend Trump Wednesday and Thursday, telling CNN that he would vote for Trump even if recent allegations proved true and that the candidate told him he had email evidence they were not. In a statement to The Washington Post, Falwell said he was proud of “these few students” but called their statement “incoherent and false.”

“I am not ‘touring the country’ or associating Liberty University with any candidate. I am only fulfilling my obligation as a citizen to ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ by expressing my personal opinion about who I believe is best suited to lead our nation in a time of crisis. This student statement seems to ignore the teachings of Jesus not to judge others but they are young and still learning,” he said.

Liberty has become a popular destination for candidates during the 2016 election season, including Trump. All presidential candidates are invited to speak to the university’s Convocation, the largest weekly gathering of Christian students in America, according to the university website.

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is scheduled to speak Monday at Convocation.

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