The ugly legal battle between Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University, the school he led and his father founded, grew uglier this week when Falwell leveled charges of financial and sexual impropriety against the school’s leaders.
According to Religion News Service, Falwell made three key arguments in his latest legal filing, which follows his 2020 resignation after a series of scandals that raised questions about his judgment and leadership of the nation’s largest Baptist university:
- That school officials diverted school funds for their personal benefit.
- That officials had overlooked sexual misconduct by other leaders while using Falwell’s alleged sins against him.
- That the school is no longer allowed to reference “The Jerry Falwell brand” and must quit publicly referencing or using photos of its founder Jerry Falwell because this intellectual property is trademarked and owned by the Dr. Jerry L. Falwell Family Trust. This claim was the subject of a lawsuit filed by Falwell Jr. in July.
“The Jerry Falwell brand will not be associated with such misconduct,” said his son’s latest complaint.
Falwell Jr. compared the behavior of the school’s leaders to the misdeeds of televangelists whose sex scandals in the 1980s brought down the likes of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Falwell Sr. worked to salvage Bakker’s PTL empire.
RNS reported that Falwell Jr. also sent a recent email claiming the school was using “millions of dollars of Liberty student tuition money to make me look as bad as possible.”
Falwell’s own behavior is highlighted in the 2022 documentary, God Forbid: The Sex Scandal that Brought Down a Dynasty. The film explores the scandal that enveloped Falwell Jr. and his wife, Becki, as details emerged about her long-running affair with a younger “pool boy” named Giancarlo Granda.
Liberty sued Falwell Jr. in 2021 alleging breach of contract and a conspiracy to deceitfully mislead the school by concealing the affair in 2019 as he negotiated a contract with the school.
One Liberty professor criticized the school at the time, saying, “Even as they criticize Falwell for his failures as a spiritual leader, they highlight their own repeated failures to keep his corruption in check.”
Falwell Jr. may not have been a moral role model, but as RNS reported, he remade the school after his father’s death in 2007. When he took the helm, the school had annual revenue of $300 million and $149 million in net assets. By 2018, revenues were $1.1 billion and assets reached $2.3 billion.
Falwell Jr. also complains about his brother Jonathan, who has stood with the school and remains its campus chaplain while also serving as pastor of the church Falwell Sr. founded, Thomas Road Baptist Church. Falwell Jr. says his brother stuck with Liberty for personal financial gain.