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Jerry Falwell Jr. On 'Indefinite Leave' From Liberty University After Racy Photo

Jerry Falwell Jr. delivers a speech during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Jerry Falwell Jr. delivers a speech during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Jerry Falwell Jr., a prominent evangelical ally of President Trump's, is taking "an indefinite leave of absence" from his positions as the president and chancellor of Liberty University in Virginia.

The move comes days after Falwell received criticism for posting a photo to social media that showed him with his pants unzipped alongside a woman who is not his wife.

In a brief statement, Liberty University said members of its board of trustees had met Friday and asked Falwell to step down from his positions "effective immediately," and that Falwell had agreed. Falwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment from NPR.

Falwell faced criticism this week from both conservative and liberal commentators after posting the controversial photo to his Instagram account. Meghan McCain, daughter of the late Republican Sen. John McCain, tweeted, "How is this Jerry Falwell Jr. photo even real? Also if you're running the largest Christian university in America maybe don't put photos of yourself on social media with your pants undone on a yacht - with random women in bad wigs. So gross, so hypocritical."

Falwell told the Lynchburg, Va., radio station WLNI on Wednesday that the photo, which was later removed, was taken in "just in good fun" during a costume party on vacation. He said the woman in the photo was his wife's assistant.

"It was weird," Falwell told the interviewer. "She's pregnant, so she couldn't get her pants zipped. I had on a pair of jeans I hadn't worn in a long time, so I couldn't get mine zipped either. So I just put my belly out like hers."

Falwell said the woman is a "sweetheart" and expressed regret about embarrassing her. He said he'd "apologized to everybody" and promised to "try to be a good boy" from now on.

Falwell is the son of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the evangelical Christian Liberty University and the conservative Moral Majority movement that rose to prominence in the Reagan era.

Falwell Jr. was among the first prominent evangelicals to endorse Donald Trump during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.