He is a political junkie with autographed photos of Karl Rove, Oliver North and Newt Gingrich on display in his small office. His heroes are Jesus Christ and Ronald Reagan — closely followed by the 79-year-old Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno, whom he admires for his work ethic. In 2004, Karl Rove brought O'Donnell in to help the Bush presidential debate team, and O'Donnell expects to be working with Republican candidates again this year.The article offers some insights into a different kind of speech code.
It's also the case that the more conventional colleges have attempted to marginalize Liberty's team.
"A few years ago," O'Donnell recalls, "the topic dealt with the right of privacy. That means, among other things, abortion. The question arose, can we let our students argue the pro side of the case? Some conservative Christian schools decided that they couldn't argue both sides of certain issues. Bob Jones University wound up dropping policy debating."
O'Donnell took the matter to Falwell. "Doc decided that if we wanted to compete, we'd need to accept the rules," O'Donnell says. That season, by special dispensation, Liberty's debate practice rooms became the only place on campus where students were free to argue in favor of Roe v. Wade.
"Not all the Liberty debaters are all that pious," says the George Mason coach, Warren Decker. Decker was raised in a Christian home in Kansas, but he has long since traded his Sunday-school innocence for a marked skepticism. "Besides," he says,"debate is a liberalizing activity. I doubt that Falwell is producing a lot of people who, when they finish at Liberty, are going out to spread the
O'Donnell disagrees, mostly because he says he doesn't fear the power of secular ideology. "If there's a challenge to belief, it's better that the kids face it now," he says. "We don't need to shelter them. We want them to know the best arguments they will be up against. What determines how they ultimately fall out on this is their relationship with God."
Liberty is not currently ranked at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Speech Code project.