The leader of one of the nation's most strident anti-abortion groups has been indicted by a grand jury after leading over 150 Liberty University students in a protest at a Lynchburg public high school Nov. 10.
The Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Rescue National, led the raucous demonstration at E.C. Glass High School. Public school students arriving for classes that morning were confronted with shouting, Bible-waving protestors standing on school property.
Some of the Liberty U. protestors slipped into the school and confronted students, distributing lurid anti-abortion literature and evangelizing aggressively. In some cases protestors physically grabbed students and demanded they pray.
Lynchburg police arrived and dispersed the crowd, although no arrests were made at the time.
Benham, whose group is based in Dallas, has two sons attending the university, which was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Benham organized the event at E.C. Glass after speaking at Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church and at Liberty. He faces charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and failing to obtain a permit for the gathering. Two Liberty students who helped organize the demonstration were also indicted.
Benham claims to have conducted similar "God Is Going Back to School" rallies at 2,000 other public schools during the past year. In Lynchburg, he ran into trouble for protesting on school property, instead of on nearby sidewalks.
"The safety and good order of the school is our first priority," Lynchburg Police Chief Charles Bennett Jr. told the Lynchburg News & Advance. "Demonstrations don't lend themselves to that. Demonstrations on school property during school hours aren't appropriate and won't be allowed to happen. It's against the law, and we simply won't allow that."
Benham apparently whipped some Liberty students into a religious frenzy during his remarks at the university. He reportedly referred to E.C. Glass as "the gates of hell" and attacked public education. During the protest, Benham pointed to police cars nearby and told the News & Advance, "This is a picture of what's gone wrong with our country. God has been replaced with metal detectors, condoms, drugs and gangs."
The comment rankled Lynchburg School Superintendent James McCormick, who pointed out that E.C. Glass, regarded as one of the best schools in the city, has no metal detectors, does not distribute condoms and is not battling a gang problem.
"I don't think [Benham] is in...