Jerry Falwell Jr., the former president of Liberty University, on Thursday sued the evangelical school for libel and breach of contract, claiming he was the victim of political retaliation after being kicked out in August amid several very personal scandals. publicized.
In a lawsuit in a Virginia state court, the 58-year-old claims the school his father founded accepted false allegations against him – including that he had an illicit affair with an attendant. the Miami pool and had repeatedly used racist speech – without investigation. University then forced him to quit the job he held for 13 years, seeking to “tarnish, minimize and outright destroy” his legacy, according to the lawsuit.
“When Mr. Falwell and his family became the target of a malicious smear campaign instigated by anti-evangelical forces, Freedom University not only accepted the salacious and baseless accusations against the Falwells at face value, but participated directly in the defamation, “says the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and a court order prohibiting the school from pursuing the defamation.
In a statement announcing the trial, Falwell, Jr., said he was saddened that school officials “drew hasty conclusions about the allegations made against my character, failed to properly investigate them, and then damaged my reputation following my forced resignation.
“While I have nothing but love and appreciation for the Liberty community, and hoped to avoid litigation, I must take the necessary steps to restore my reputation and hopefully help repair damage to the Liberty University brand, ”he added. .
The 58-year-old battle with Liberty University began on August 7 when the school announced it was investigating “rumors and claims” about the evangelical leader after a photo of him with his pants unzipped surfaced. Falwell apologized for the photo, which he said was taken at a costume party while on a family vacation, but has been put on indefinite leave.
Then, in a statement from August 23 to Washington Examiner, Falwell Jr. revealed his wife had entered into an “inappropriate personal relationship” with the couple’s “pool boy”, who threatened to come forward. Citing the “emotional toll” of the case, Falwell claimed that although he and his wife “tried to distance themselves from him over time”, the man “grew increasingly angry and aggressive” .
“Eventually he began to threaten to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to willfully embarrass my wife, family and the University of Liberty unless we agreed to pay him substantial sums,” Falwell said. in a press release to Examiner.
The next day, the pool attendant said in an explosive Reuters interview that he was involved in a seven-year sexual relationship with the couple which began in March 2013.
Giancarlo Granda, who said his relationship with the couple began when he was a 20-year-old employee at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, told Reuters that throughout the affair he is said to be having sex with Falwell’s wife, Becki Tilley Falwell, in front of the evangelical leader.
“Becki and I developed an intimate relationship and Jerry liked to watch from the corner of the room,” Granda said, noting that the liaisons took place “several times a year” at hotels in New York and Miami and at the couple’s house in Virginia before ending in 2018.
Falwell’s trial responds directly to Granda’s accusations, claiming the two had been victims of the 29-year-old’s ongoing extortion program for years.
His blackmail efforts, according to the lawsuit, were recently “absorbed into a smear campaign by political operatives who oppose Mr. Falwell’s support for President Trump.” Falwell’s attorneys allege that Granda is working with the Lincoln Project, a political action campaign formed by Republicans to prevent President Trump from being re-elected, and started his “hit job” against the evangelical leader’s family after teaming up with them. (Rick Wilson, editor for The Daily Beast, is co-founder of the Lincoln Project.)
After Falwell’s resignation, Liberty University also took steps to “systematically erase” him from school history, the lawsuit says, including removing all mention of him from the website, removing the portraits of him from the campus and forbidding communication with professors and staff.
“The University also moved quickly to destroy Mr. Falwell’s reputation in the Liberty community and across the country,” the lawsuit says, including stating that he engaged in “disobedient” behavior “by secret ”which was a“ sin ”at a community service event on August 26th.
“Until then, Granda’s lies were just that – lies, vigorously denied by Mr. Falwell. But Liberty gave these lies an air of truth and justice, ”the lawsuit declares, calling the school’s action“ antithetical to the teachings of Christ ”. The lawsuit adds that the school has refused to meet with Falwell since his resignation.
In addition to the sex scandals, Falwell was forced to issue a public apology in June amid uproar over a tweet in which he said he would only wear a coronavirus mask if he had the 1984 photo allegedly showing Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in blackface. above. At least three black college employees quit following the tweet.
“We have attempted to meet with the executive committee of the University of Liberty board on several occasions, but have failed to do so,” said Robert Raskopf, senior counsel representing Falwell. “Thus, we were forced to seek redress for Mr. Falwell’s continued injuries and damage to his reputation in court.
Liberty University did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
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