03/06/2013 10:20 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Tim Tebow To Speak At Liberty University, As Questions About Stance On LGBT Issues Increase

Tim Tebow is slated to speak at a notoriously conservative private college with an anti-gay reputation on Friday.

The openly evangelical Tebow, who's currently a back-up quarterback for the New York Jets, will be speaking at Liberty University's "Convocation" series in Virginia on March 8.

Unlike others speeches this spring, the Heisman Trophy winner's presentation will be closed to the public, according to the school's website.

When asked whether the event would be closed because of past controversy surrounding Tebow, Liberty University spokesman Johnnie Moore said the school had long planned on making the engagement private because officials expect a big student turnout.

"The Tebow Convocation has been closed to the general public since we announced his visit months ago," Moore told the Huffington Post in an email. "It is only closed to the public because of limited seating capacity in our basketball arena."

Liberty University bills itself as the largest Christian university in the world. Founded in 1971 by televangelist and Southern Baptist leader Jerry Falwell, the school has a strict code of conduct that bans non-marital sexual relations "or the encouragement or advocacy of any form of sexual behavior that would undermine the Christian identity or faith mission of the University."

Tebow, an NFL superstar by many standards, is certainly free to accept any speaking engagement he wants. However, due to Liberty University's reputation for intolerance toward the LGBT community, some might interpret the athlete's appearance as a tacit acknowledgement of similar values.

Of course, "only Tim Tebow can answer that," GLAAD representative Aaron McQuade told HuffPost during a telephone interview.

The Liberty University appearance comes on the heels of Tebow's recently canceled speech at the First Baptist megachurch in Dallas. Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor at the church, has made inflammatory comments about gays, Muslims and other groups in the past.

Liberty University may have seemed a "safer" choice to Tebow, McQuade speculated, but that does not mean the school doesn't harbor and promote similar attitudes.

Liberty University’s vice president and law school dean, Mathew Staver, for example, has also made several controversial comments. He's supported the criminalization of homosexuality in Malawi and condemned the "so-called LGBT agenda" as an assault "on religious freedom and freedom of speech," Right Wing Watch notes.

In 2009, the school declared it would no longer officially recognize the College Democrats club because it was associated with the Democratic Party, and, therefore, with abortion, efforts to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and proponents of the LGBT agenda, according to an email obtained by The Washington Post.

The late Falwell, too, was well known for his outspoken comments. After 9/11, for example, Falwell, along with fellow evangelist Pat Robertson, partly blamed gays and lesbians, among others, for "help[ing] this happen."

Tebow, while generally mum on hot-button issues associated with his faith, has made tentative forays into controversy before. In 2009, he appeared in a subtly anti-abortion Super Bowl ad funded by Focus on the Family, an influential Christian organization that campaigns against gay marriage and abortion, among other issues.

After the ad ran, "a lot of people started wondering, 'who is his guy, what does he believe?'" McQuade pointed out.

Maybe the past few weeks indicate Tebow's willingness to be more outspoken on certain topics, McQuade says; but then, again, maybe it doesn't. The only thing that's certain is that whatever Tebow does decide to do, someone is going to be angry about it.

Representatives for Tebow did not return requests for comment as of press time.

Update at 11:22 a.m., March 6: The group Faithful America has started a petition asking Tim Tebow to not speak at Liberty University. Since being posted Tuesday, the online petition has been signed by nearly 10,000 people, many of whom identified themselves as fellow Christians.



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