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Jerry Falwell Jr. sues Liberty University for defamation, ruining his ‘legacy’

Erik Larson

Jerry Falwell Jr., the former president of Liberty University, accused the evangelical Christian school of defaming him by spreading lies about his wife’s brief affair with another man who’d befriended the couple.

Falwell, 58, was placed on leave not long after he posted online a photo of himself next to a woman who wasn’t his wife and with his pants unzipped. The school later forced him out after a former pool attendant at a Miami hotel frequented by Falwell and his wife went public with details about his relationship with the high-profile couple that started in 2012, including a salacious claim that Falwell watched him have sex with his wife.

In this March 21, 2019 file photo, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, waits for the arrival of President Donald Trump to sign an executive order on "improving free inquiry, transparency, and accountability on campus" in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Liberty University failed to investigate the pool attendant’s claims before moving to “destroy” Falwell, telling thousands of students that he’d engaged in “disobedient” behavior that was “shameful” and a “sin,” according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Lynchburg, Virginia.

According to the suit, the pool attendant tried to extort “enormous cash payments” from the Falwells to keep quiet about a “brief” affair that Falwell’s wife Rebecca had with him in 2014. When that effort failed, the man allegedly partnered with The Lincoln Project, a conservative group opposed to President Donald Trump’s reelection, to publicize the claims.

“Based on research and investigation, this individual appears to be supported financially by political opponents of Mr. Falwell in the midst of a heated presidential campaign,” Falwell said in a statement Thursday.

Neither the Lincoln Project nor the pool boy are defendants in the lawsuit.

The Lincoln Project, in a statement, said it wasn’t responsible for Falwell posting an embarrassing picture on social media, which helped lead to his forced resignation.

“The Lincoln Project didn’t make Mr. Falwell stand with Donald Trump, though that now makes sense; they are kindred spirits,” according to the statement. “The Lincoln Project has had nothing to do with the public finally learning about the true character of the Falwell family.”


Falwell, whose father Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the school, claims the “anti-evangelical” Lincoln Project worked with the man to damage Falwell as payback for his early support for Trump during the 2016 primaries, and that Liberty University blindly latched onto the claims.

The suit, alleging defamation and breach of contract, was filed Wednesday in state court in Lynchburg, Virginia. It seeks unspecified damages and a court order barring the school from further defaming Falwell.

“The university would need to read and review a lawsuit before making comment, and as of this moment we have not been served,” Lynchburg-based Liberty, which calls itself the world’s largest Christian university, said in a statement. Liberty has a $1.6 billion endowment, 15,000 students in residence and more than 100,000 who study online, according to the complaint.

Forensic Investigation

In an Aug. 31 statement, Liberty said it was “committed to learning the consequences that have flowed from a lack of spiritual stewardship by our former president” and would be hiring a forensic firm to thoroughly investigate Falwell’s dealings for possible misconduct.

Falwell has long been a backer of Trump, who spoke to the university graduating class in 2017 and has wide support from evangelical Christians.

“I am saddened that University officials, with whom I have shared so much success and enjoyed such positive relationships, jumped to conclusions about the claims made against my character, failed to properly investigate them, and then damaged my reputation following my forced resignation,” Falwell said in the statement.