Liberty University police issue criminal trespassing charges for NYT, ProPublica journalists after both publications wrote articles critical of the college president’s decision to partially reopen Liberty’s campus during the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Post reports.
The private evangelical college president Jerry Falwell Jr. has pushed for the charges against Alec MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica, and Julia Rendleman, a photographer for The New York Times, for allegedly trespassing the campus in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The college has come under fire for allowing students back to campus after the school’s spring break despite the pandemic, while nearly every other college in the country has ordered students off campus. Falwell’s decision came nearly two weeks after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) issued a state of emergency.
Falwell argued that Liberty wanted to be available to their roughly 750 international students and others without fallback housing options, including students who couldn’t return home in an effort to protect elderly family members living under the same roof. Falwell noted that there was “maybe” less than 10 percent occupancy on campus.
He said reporters entering the grounds without permission from coronavirus “hotspots” was a safety issue.
“When people are coming from known hotspots, we feel we owe it to our students and our parents not to let that happen,” Falwell said Thursday. “The only way to send the message is to let them know they will be prosecuted.”
Virginia Magistrate Kang Lee signed arrest warrants for Class 1 Misdemeanors against the two journalists, punishable by up to a year in jail.