speaker Newt Gingrich told Liberty University's graduating
class Saturday to honor the spirit of school founder Jerry
Falwell by confronting ''the growing culture of
radical secularism'' with Christian ideals.
Gingrich, who is
considering a 2008 presidential run, quoted Bible
passages to a mournful crowd of about 17,000 packed into the
university's football stadium in Lynchburg,
Va., four days after Falwell's death.
somber tone of the day, graduates who covered the football
field chanted ''Jerry! Jerry!'' in tribute to Falwell.
culture of radical secularism declares that the nation
cannot profess the truths on which it was founded,''
Gingrich said. ''We are told that our public schools
can no longer invoke the Creator, nor proclaim the
natural law, nor profess the God-given quality of human
''In hostility to
American history, the radical secularists insist that
religious belief is inherently divisive and that public
debate can only proceed on secular terms,'' he said.
decried what he called judges' overreaching efforts to
separate church and state.
''Too often the
courts have been biased against religious believers. This
antireligious bias must end,'' he said.
commencement has become a forum for conservative
politicians. Last year's address came from Republican
presidential candidate John McCain, who made amends
with Falwell after attacking him by name during
McCain's failed 2000 White House bid.
Gingrich said he
won't decide until October whether to run for president.
It was the first
commencement without Falwell, the Baptist preacher who
established the church-based university in 1971, before he
founded the Moral Majority that helped elect Ronald
Reagan president in 1980.
morning the 73-year-old Falwell was discovered without a
pulse in his office at Liberty and pronounced dead at
a hospital about an hour later. His physician said
Falwell had a heart condition and presumably died of a
heart rhythm abnormality.
His funeral was
set for Tuesday.
His son, Jerry
Falwell Jr., addressed Liberty's students Saturday as the
school's new chancellor.
''No one can
replace Dad, but--'' he said before he choked with
emotion. Applause rippled across the crowd as he
struggled to regain his composure. ''But there's a
team here ready to carry on, and we're going to give
it everything we have as he did for so long.''
Liberty to be his most enduring legacy. He envisioned it
as a ''Protestant Notre Dame,'' projecting fundamentalist
Christianity for generations. It was to be a training
ground for conservative politicians, lawyers, and
judges--warriors in what Falwell perceived as a
cultural war against liberals, gay rights, legalized
abortion, and forces he saw as a threat to
after his speech that Falwell's death would not slow the
Christian right's efforts.
''Anybody on the
Left who hopes that when people like Reverend Falwell
disappear, that the opportunity to convert all of America
has gone with them, fundamentally misunderstands why
institutions like this were created,'' Gingrich said.
(Bob Lewis, AP)