DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A growing number of graduates from one evangelical university are preparing to return their diplomas to protest their school's support for President Trump. Alumni of Liberty University are organizing this effort following Trump's divisive comments about the deadly white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Va. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, they are specifically condemning Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr.'s continued support for the president.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., has long been associated with conservative politics. School President Jerry Falwell Jr. was an early evangelical supporter of then-candidate Donald Trump. Back in January 2016, just days before endorsing his candidacy for the Republican nomination, Falwell praised Trump.
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JERRY FALWELL: In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment.
MCCAMMON: Falwell's support for Trump has dismayed some Liberty students and alumni. Georgia Hamann is a 2006 graduate who's now an attorney in Phoenix. She says she was troubled by Trump's comments about Charlottesville. After denouncing white supremacy, President Trump later said there were some very fine people in the crowd of neo-Nazis and white nationalist protesters.
GEORGIA HAMANN: When Jerry Falwell Jr. characterized those comments as bold and truthful, that really was - it felt to us like a slap in the face at a different level than what we had previously been concerned about.
MCCAMMON: Falwell followed that statement with a second tweet of his own the next day, calling white supremacists, the KKK and other hate groups pure evil and un-American. Hamann says Falwell's continued association with the president is a betrayal of Christian values, an embarrassment. Chris Gaumer, a former Student Government Association president and 2006 graduate who still lives in Lynchburg, says he's eager to send back his diploma.
CHRIS GAUMER: The president of the United States is defending Nazis and white supremacists. And in defending the president's comments, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making himself and, it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit.
MCCAMMON: Yesterday on ABC's "This Week," Falwell responded to Gaumer's statement, as first reported by NPR.
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FALWELL: He completely misunderstands my support. My support for the president is his bold and truthful willingness to call terrorist groups by their names. And that's something we haven't seen in presidents in recent years.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Well, let's stay on...
MCCAMMON: But some graduates say they're not satisfied with that response. Andria Chappell of Douglasville, Ga., says she plans to sign on to a group letter from multiple concerned alumni. She wants to send Falwell this message.
ANDRIA CHAPPELL: We're just not going to sit down and just accept what you say because you're the president of the school. We do have a voice. And we want to be heard. And we want to be respected.
MCCAMMON: Liberty alumni are organizing their protests through word of mouth and a Facebook group that's been growing larger in recent days. They're planning to put their letters and their diplomas in the mail on September 5. Sarah McCammon, NPR News.
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