The political salience of Liberty U

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas announces his campaign for president, March 23, 2015, at Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, in Lynchburg, Va. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas announces his campaign for president, March 23, 2015, at Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, in Lynchburg, Va.
Sometimes, where a presidential candidate launches his or her campaign is every bit as significant as what's said in the campaign kick-off. In February 2007, for example, Barack Obama began his journey to the White House where Abraham Lincoln denounced slavery a century and a half earlier.
"[I]n the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States," Obama said.
The literal, physical place carried its own significance, and was intended to convey a thematic message to the country about what kind of candidate Obama wanted to be.
Similarly, eight years later, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launched his presidential campaign this morning at Liberty University, an evangelical school in Lynchburg, Virginia, created by the late TV preacher Jerry Falwell. And this, too, carries its own significance, conveying a specific message about the Republican senator.
As longtime readers may recall, Liberty University is burdened with an ironic name. The restrictions placed on Liberty's students are the stuff of legend – its code of conduct dictates that students are prohibited from seeing R-rated movies, listening to music that is not “in harmony with God’s word,” drinking alcohol, dancing, or kissing. Women on campus are prohibited from wearing dresses or skirts “shorter than the top of the knee."
At one point, Liberty even banned students who wanted to form an on-campus Democratic Party group.
A couple of years ago, however, Liberty announced that students would be allowed to carry loaded firearms on campus.

Liberty University, the largest religion-affiliated U.S. school, is loosening restrictions for carrying firearms on its Lynchburg, Va., campus. Liberty students who have an easy-to-obtain Virginia concealed carry permit and permission from campus police will now be able to carry a loaded gun into classrooms, according to a March 22 revision to school policy.

The shift created a unique academic environment.
At Liberty University, students are far more likely to see someone carrying a semi-automatic than carrying a bottle of beer. Mini-skirts have been deemed inappropriate, but loaded handguns have been deemed entirely appropriate. Students can see an extended magazine, but they can't see "American Sniper."
And this is just the school. Don't get me started on some of the jaw-dropping comments Falwell, Liberty's founder, made during his notorious career. The list includes Falwell blaming the 9/11 attacks on Americans.
Cruz wasn't just looking for a venue within driving distance of the D.C. Beltway. He saw symbolic value in choosing Liberty U, and the selection speaks volumes.
* Update: According to a National Journal report, student attendance at the Cruz event was mandatory. Students at Liberty who did not attend faced a $10 fine.