LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — An evangelical pastor and author says he was removed from Liberty University after a concert and threatened with arrest if he returned to campus.
President Jerry Falwell Jr. says Jonathan Martin was removed from campus Monday night because of security concerns.
Martin tells The News & Advance that he attended the concert at Liberty's Music and Worship Center. He posted on social media that he was visiting band members backstage when he was removed by Liberty University Police.
Falwell said in a phone interview that police became aware of future protest plans from Martin's social media posts and a security official issued the request for removal.
Martin recently spoke against Falwell's support for President Donald Trump's administration.
“Let’s be clear: Steve Bannon is a brazen white supremacist & the high priest of a false religion. He blasphemes the Holy Spirit,” Martin wrote in a series of tweets critical of Falwell and Bannon on Friday.
Falwell was one of the first prominent evangelical leaders to support Trump's candidacy during the 2016 Republican primary. He's urged evangelicals to look beyond Trump's history of multiple marriages and vulgar language – including a 2005 recording where he brags about touching women's genitals without consent. In an interview with NPR in May, Falwell said no leader is without flaws.
"Because the ones that you think are so perfect and sinless, it's just you don't know about it," Falwell said. "They're all just as bad. We all are, and that's the bottom line."
Martin had planned to pray with Liberty students at 7 a.m. in front of the Jerry Falwell Library on Tuesday.
“What does it mean for a college administration to be this afraid of free speech? What precisely is @JerryFalwellJr afraid of?” Martin tweeted early Tuesday morning following Monday’s incident.
The statement from Liberty expressed concerns about campus safety:
"Members of the Liberty University community are always welcome to engage in peaceful debate, intellectual inquiry and protest, but for public safety reasons, organized events by outside groups require advance notice and participating in the appropriate application process. Liberty University learned via social media of an attempt by Jonathan Martin to schedule an event on its private campus without any prior authorization or consultation. Mr. Martin is not a student, faculty member or employee of Liberty University. There are facility use protocols for those who are not members of the University community to schedule events on the campus. Those protocols take into account safety and security, as well as schedule conflicts and costs. Absent such pre-planning and authorization, an event promoted to the general public on social media has the potential to be a security risk. Given the late hour of the notice, the only effective way to prevent the unauthorized event from happening this morning was to issue a trespass warning to its organizer, Mr. Martin, last evening. This was done in a professional and matter of fact manner by Liberty University Police Department.
In light of the climate of protests associated with campuses across the country, Liberty University takes seriously its obligation to preserve and maintain campus safety and security. While University community members can freely make arrangements for their events, those who are not members of the University community have a higher burden to be granted access to Liberty University's facilities for their private purposes. Even so, from time to time the University has made places available for outside groups to stage protests. Typically, however, those groups are directed off campus, especially where there are no tie-ins with a student organization or other member of the University community.
It may be possible that Jonathan Martin knew his unauthorized event would ultimately not be permitted to occur on the private property of Liberty University but he simply hoped to garner more attention to his cause by having his efforts stopped. So be it. The judgment was made that it was safer to stop the event before it started than to attempt to turn away an unknown number of people who traveled to Liberty's campus. Either option likely gives Mr. Martin's cause the publicity he apparently seeks. The University cannot be concerned with whether its actions provide additional oxygen to either side of a debate but rather must be concerned about safety and security of its campus."