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By Dhanya Addanki 11-03-2017

Evangelical writer and pastor Jonathan Martin was forcibly removed from Liberty University’s campus on Oct. 29. Martin, who has often been critical of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s unwavering support of President Trump, was confronted by armed campus security officers while backstage at a concert on campus grounds. According to Martin, security told him he would be arrested if he stepped foot on Liberty University grounds again. 

Martin said that they took his picture with a flashlight in his face, had him sign a paper saying he had received the warning, and stood him outside on the curb until someone came to pick him up.

“At the time it was pretty unnerving, because I knew enough about Falwell’s authoritarian instincts,” Martin told Sojourners. “I wasn’t expecting this amazing welcome, but I certainly didn’t expect to be forcibly thrown off the campus.”

On Oct. 27, after hearing that Falwell Jr. would be teaming up with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon to oust “fake” Republicans, Martin tweeted: “Let’s be clear: Steve Bannon is a brazen white supremacist & the high priest of a false religion. He blasphemes the Holy Spirit.”

Martin then called on students, alumni, pastors, and church leaders to gather peacefully in the next few weeks, in order to pray and be in solidarity with students and employees at Liberty University who may disagree with Falwell Jr.

Numerous Liberty students expressed interest in holding a prayer meeting.

Alex Forbes, a senior at Liberty University, is part of a group of students who often speak out against Trump, and, sometimes, their university president's support of Trump. Forbes said he wasn’t shocked by how the university handled Martin’s presence on campus.

“Of course I didn’t like it,” Forbes said.

“It felt a little bit 1984-y.”

As a response, Liberty University released a statement on Oct. 31saying that forcibly removing Martin from the campus was a safety issue.

The statement reads:

“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. …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.”

When Sojourners asked for further comments about Martin’s forcible removal, a spokesperson from Liberty University’s said “I can only provide the statement.”

“I think it’s funny that they said it was over security concerns, when Falwell is openly encouraging his students to carry guns, but is afraid of prayer from people who openly promote Christian nonviolence,” Martin said.

“They didn’t even ask me not to [hold a prayer meeting], or say, ‘Sir, you have to fill out paperwork or do this off-campus.’ No, the recourse is come with five police officers, escort me off campus, and tell me I’m banned for life.” 

The prayer meeting on Liberty’s campus went as planned, without Martin’s presence. Martin held another prayer meeting in his hotel lobby nearby.

Forbes attended both prayer meetings. He said the meetings were focused on the students, who asked questions about how to make Liberty better.

“I think when anything happens, we tend not to be angry — what comes out of it is genuine discussion about what we can do to change, ” Forbes said.

This is not the first time that Falwell Jr. has attempted to inhibit speech against the Trump administration on Liberty’s campus.

Last year, he came under fire for removing a column by sports editor Joel Schmieg from Liberty’s student newspaper. The piece was about the then-candidate Trump’s claims about being able to get away with sexual assault.

Forbes says instances like Martin’s are evidence of a larger issue at Liberty.

“I think for Jerry Falwell Jr., Jesus being Lord is a matter of praying the ‘Sinners’ prayer’ and accepting him into your heart, and beyond that it’s all pragmatism,” Martin said.

“This sort of pragmatism mixed with nationalism that gets represented in people like Falwell and Franklin Graham … when you don’t have any particular claims about the gospel and the implications of Jesus being Lord, then you’re open to any and all kinds of things. To me I don’t even know if I think of it as a deviation or a distortion of Christianity. It feels like an entirely new religion.” 

Dhanya Addanki is Associate Web Editor at Sojourners. Find her on Twitter at @dhanyaddanki

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