Many Liberty University alumni have had a problem with President Jerry Falwell Jr.'s unwavering support of President Trump for months, but Falwell's defense of the commander-in-chief following the recent violence in Charlottesville, VA has led a group of Liberty graduates to return their diplomas in protest.
After President Trump condemned "both sides" for the chaos at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that left three dead and many more injured, Falwell praised him on Twitter. "Bold truthful stmt about #Charlottesville tragedy," Falwell wrote. "So proud of @RealDonaldTrump."
Graduates of the evangelical Christian postsecondary school in Lynchburg, Virginia were not pleased with Falwell's response. A Facebook group started last week by alumni wanting to give back their Liberty diplomas grew to roughly 300 members, and the description explains that many have been concerned about Falwell's leadership for a while. "More recently, Falwell's unabated support of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, and his actions as president have filled us with shame and anger as alums," the site reads.
The group is calling on alumni to return their diplomas by September 5 with a letter explaining why they no longer wish to be affiliated with the school.
Chrissy Nettekoven Spears, who graduated from Liberty in 2009, told Refinery29 she plans to express her concern over Falwell's political involvement in her letter accompanying her returned diploma.
"I feel like he should be willing to bend his ear toward the alumni, and the students, and the faculty and see our heart," Spears, 31, said of Falwell, "but I feel like right now he probably wants to gain from what the presidency will give him."
Along with taking a step back from politics altogether, she wants Falwell to stop aligning the university with the current administration.
"I did not vote for Trump in the election, and I felt like his public support of Trump just pulled me into that support," she told Refinery29.
In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Falwell clarified that his tweet was praising Trump for calling out the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists in one of his public statements after the events in Charlottesville, noting that Trump may have had information the public wasn't aware of when condemning "both sides." Falwell also called the violence in Charlottesville "pure evil."
But those sending their diplomas back weren't satisfied.
"Falwell has shown himself to be unabashedly in service of money and power, at the expense of others, not of the message of the gospel he claims," the group's Facebook page says.
Some of the former Liberty students, including Georgia Hamann, now an attorney in Phoenix, have also written a letter to university officials officially calling on Falwell to walk back his approval of Trump's Charlottesville response.
In October, a student group called Liberty United Against Trump issued a statement disavowing the then-presidential candidate and Falwell for defending his behavior. After the infamous tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women's genitals without consent surfaced, Falwell stood by Trump because "we’re all sinners."
“Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him,” Liberty United Against's statement read. "He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.”
Now, graduates are publicly taking a stand against Falwell's, and thus the university's, consistent support of President Trump by returning the one document that formally ties them to the school.
This article was originally published on August 21, 2017 at 1:45 p.m. It has since been updated.