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An activist Christian group has launched a petition drive to get the Virginia Attorney General’s office and the IRS to open criminal investigations into Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.
So far Faithful America has collected 10,875 signatures and hopes to reach their goal of 15,000 by this weekend.
“The response has been great so far, more than we expected,” said Rev. Nathan Empsall, the organization’s Campaigns Director. “But that shouldn't come as a surprise given how fed up so many Christians are with the way Falwell and others have hijacked the Gospel to represent their hypocritical own self-interests rather than Christ's teachings of love and justice.”
The drive comes in the wake of exposés by Politico, The Miami Herald and other news outlets which have accused Falwell of, among other things, using the influential and ultra-conservative Christian college to enrich himself and his cronies.
Falwell is also alleged to have engaged in activities that run counter to the Christian college’s ethos like sharing photos of his wife, Becki, in French maid costume with employees, graphically describing their sex life, and drinking and dancing in Miami Beach nightspots.
In response, Falwell earlier this month asked the FBI to investigate a supposed “criminal conspiracy” against him by former board members of the Christian school who he blames for the spate of negative stories.
Falwell, who took the reins of the university in 2007 after the death of his father, Moral Majority founder Rev. Jerry Falwell, has denied any impropriety.
Empsall, who is also a priest associate at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul & St. James in New Haven, Connecticut, said Faithful America has been critical of Falwell before “when he’s made, for example, anti-Islamic statements.”
“The difference is now we are calling for a criminal investigation because there has been this snowball of stories that point out that there is a potential pattern of criminal self-dealing at Liberty University,” he said. “We’ve always known this guy is an extremist and a hypocrite and he should face social consequences for that. This is the first time we’re calling for legal consequences.”
“I’m not going to say Jerry Falwell Jr. is not a Christian, “ Empsall added. “But his behavior is not Christian.”
NBC News has reached out to Liberty University spokesman Scott Lamb and Liberty University Board of Trustees chairman Dr. Jerry Prevo for a response.
The IRS does investigate fraud allegations, but it requires whistleblowers to follow a set procedure that is detailed on the government's website.
Faithful America is a left-of-center group that was founded in 2004 and affiliated with the National Council of Churches of Christ.
Previously, it launched a petition drive demanding the resignation of Franklin Graham from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for “preaching hatred and Trumpism” and another urging publisher HarperCollins to drop Focus on the Family founder James Dobson “for his discrimination against women, immigrants, and the LGBT community.”
It has also condemned former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for calling President Barack Obama’s presidency “anti-Christian” and pressured MSNBC to stop inviting Family Research Council President Tony Perkins to appear on its programs as a “Christian spokesman.” NBC Universal is the parent company of MSNBC — which is also the parent company of NBC News.
Faithful America also collected what is said was thousands of signatures following revelations in 2014 that the Newark Archdiocese planned to build a $500,000 addition to a retirement home for then-Newark Archbishop John Myers.
Newark Archdiocese spokesman James Goodness questioned the veracity of the 22,000 collected signatures and claimed Faithful America “has been supported financially over the years by the prominent atheist George Soros.”
Soros, a billionaire philanthropist who hails from a Hungarian Jewish family, is a favorite bogeyman for right wingers because he is a well-known supporter of progressive and liberal causes.
Faithful America was affiliated with the Citizen Engagement Lab which has received donations from Soros’ Open Society Foundations, according to the Influence Watch website. Empsail said that since May 2018 Faithful America has been "an independent 501(c)4, incorporated in our own right with no fiscal sponsor."