Liberty University, which was in the media spotlight when it opened its campus to many students after spring break despite the coronavirus pandemic, is going to press charges against two journalists, reported the Associated Press.
Liberty, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, says the two journalists, Alec MacGillis, a ProPublica reporter and Julia Rendleman, whose photograph was part of March 29 story in The New York Times, were on campus without permission.
A Virginia magistrate has signed arrest warrants for Class 1 misdemeanors — punishable by up to a year in jail — for the two journalists. Now, Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney will decide whether to prosecute.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the evangelical university’s president, told AP they were pressing these charges because the journalists, by being outsiders, were a safety concern at a time of a global pandemic.
In response, ProPublica told AP that in its article it was highlighting safety concerns stemming from allowing students back on campus at a time when many states are in lockdown and when most universities have shut campus to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“Bringing an action on trespassing charges seems something beside the point,” said Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica.
AP said that, as of Thursday, there were about 1,000 students living on the Liberty campus. Falwell Jr. has said earlier he kept the campus open for students from abroad and for those students whose circumstances make it difficult for them to go home.