Jerry Falwell Jr., former president of Liberty University, is suing the institution for using the name and likeness of his late father and school founder Jerry Falwell without the strict consent of his family’s trust, according to a U.S. District Court lawsuit.
Jerry Falwell Jr. and the Dr. Jerry L. Falwell Family Trust allege Liberty University has continuously used “the Trust’s valuable trademark” for its own benefit. Recent examples it cited include the university creating a custom font based on Falwell’s signature for advertising purposes, engraving his footprints at the head of a walking tour out of an old pair of his shoes and the university’s plans to create an interactive hologram of the late founder. Falwell Jr. called the latter an “ostentatious, Disney-esque shrine” in a press release statement.
The lawsuit follows the university denying a request by the family trust to pay $7 million to continue using Falwell’s likeness for the next four years and hand complete editorial control over its usage to the former president, Falwell Jr., according to The News & Advance. The plaintiffs claim the university never consulted the trust ahead of its recent plans to open a new welcome center called “The Jerry Falwell Center.”
Falwell, known for his televangelist sermons and Republican activism, helmed the university from its founding until he died at his desk in 2007. Falwell Jr. assumed the presidency next, building the Baptist university from a fledgling institution to an online powerhouse with around 130,000 students as of 2022.
The university believes “it will ultimately prevail in this case” and that it “will be able to maintain its use of the name of its founder,” according to a statement from a Liberty spokesperson. “[Falwell’s] name is synonymous with Liberty University, and for decades has been used across campus, including on buildings such as the Jerry Falwell Museum and the Jerry Falwell Library.”
Despite Falwell Jr.’s successful 13-year run as president, his relationship with Liberty spoiled in 2020 following a scandal involving his wife’s years-long affair and her accusations that he was an alcoholic. Since resigning, Falwell Jr. and the institution have been embroiled in legal battles, starting with the former alleging the institution defamed his reputation. The second came from Liberty University, accusing Falwell Jr. of withholding damaging personal information during contract negotiations.