Obviously, we live in divisive times, but not every conflict is a product of this new era. The beef between folks like Rachel Maddow and Jerry Falwell Jr. knows no era. As long as there have been societies, there have been Maddows and Falwells — mortal foes locked in an eternal struggle. The nature of combat may chance, but the fight is never done.
Today that fight is reaching a rare pitch. Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host who needs no introduction, was a guest on Chris Hayes’ “Why Is This Happening?” podcast, where she fired a volley at Liberty University.
“Liberty University was founded by a televangelist so that your Christian child wouldn’t be corrupted by actual higher education,” she told Hayes. “And now that’s the spokesperson for the Justice Department.”
Maddow was referring to Liberty School of Law alum Kerri Kupek, who was recently nominated to the spot by President Donald Trump.
“She needs to study her history,” Falwell fired back on Fox News. “Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown — most of the Ivy League schools — were founded by preachers and evangelists, and that’s a long tradition in this country, and she just shows her ignorance and religious bigotry by making comments like that.”
Both Falwell and Maddow have points here.
First of all, Falwell accusing Maddow of religious bigotry is a bit ignorant. On the same podcast, Maddow told Hayes “I am a person who has a belief in God and has religious faith, and thinks about things in terms of how we all answer to God at the end of our lives.” Falwell can disagree about Maddow’s take on the school his father founded without calling Maddow a bigot.
But he’s right the origins of the Ivys. Harvard was named for a minister named John Harvard in 1638, and was started for the training of ministers. Yale was started as sort of a regional competitor for Congregational ministers. The creation of Princeton in 1746 was an explicit result of the Great Awakening, and Brown had its origins among east coast Baptist churches. Dartmouth, William and Mary and Rutgers all have roots in American churches as well.
But this doesn’t entirely vindicate Fallwell’s argument, since those schools are no longer explicitly Christian in their missions, whatever their legacies. Liberty’s own mission statement says that it promotes “the synthesis of academic knowledge and a Christian worldview in order that there might be a maturing of spiritual, intellectual, social and physical value-driven behavior.” Maddow’s characterization of that was certainly uncharitable, but it wasn’t out of line with the school’s own statement of purpose.
But Maddow may cross a line when she appears to differentiate between Liberty University and “actual higher education.” Whatever your take on Falwell’s own contentious politics, his school has been accredited since 1980. Just this spring, Liberty Law (from which the Justice Department spokesperson in question graduated) was ranked fourth in the country in an American Bar Association competition. Kupek graduated from a well-respected institution.
So, neither Falwell nor Maddow are entirely wrong here, but both overplay their respective hands. So it has been. So it shall always be.