The head of the conservative evangelical Liberty University has been forced to take an “indefinite leave of absence” after he shared a photo of himself with his pants unzipped to reveal his underwear.
Jerry Falwell Jr, a prominent backer of Donald Trump and one of America’s most powerful evangelical leaders, was accused of hypocrisy after posting the photo to Instagram this week.
Liberty University, based in Virginia, has strict rules over dress code and social activities.
In a statement on Friday the university said:
“The executive committee of Liberty University’s board of trustees, acting on behalf of the full board, met today and requested that Jerry Falwell Jr take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as president and chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately.”
The move represents an extraordinary downfall for Falwell, who has served as the president of the ultra-conservative university since 2007. Liberty University was founded by Falwell’s father, and the younger Falwell became head after his death.
In the offending photo Falwell is wearing a black T-shirt and dark pants. The pants are unzipped at the fly and are stretched open to reveal Falwell’s navel, stomach and upper crotch. Falwell’s underpants, which appear to be grey, are visible.
The outfit seemed at odds with the strict dress code regulations of Liberty University, a favorite of evangelical Republicans.
The university rules that skirts may not be shorter than two inches above the knee and forbids male students from wearing shorts in class.
Falwell deleted the image, which he said was taken on a yacht, but it was shared by a Houston Chronicle reporter on Twitter.
Liberty University’s request that Falwell take a leave of absence suggests his case was not helped by an off-the-cuff, chaotic radio interview on the Morningline Virginia-based radio show on Wednesday.
“I’ve apologized to everybody,” Falwell told the radio show.
“And I’ve promised my kids I’m going to try to be … I’m gonna try to be a good boy from here on out.”
Falwell appeared alongside a woman in the photo, who also had her pants unzipped. In the radio interview he said she had influenced his sartorial decision.
“She’s pregnant so she couldn’t get her … she couldn’t get her pants up,” Falwell said, adding that the woman was his wife’s assistant.
“And I was like, trying to like, my, I had on a pair of jeans that I hadn’t worn in a long time so I couldn’t get mine zipped either. And so I just put my belly, I just put my belly out like hers.”
Falwell has previously faced questions over his behavior, including after he was photographed partying at a Miami nightclub.
At Liberty University, students who attend a dance face a fine of $20, and are also barred from “visiting alone with the opposite sex at an off-campus residence”, according to the Washington Post. The university also deems sex outside of marriage, and same-sex relations, to be “not permissible”.
Falwell previously raised eyebrows after he and his wife struck up a close friendship with Giancarlo Granda, a 21-year-old former hotel pool attendant. Falwell went on to contribute $1.8m to Granda’s purchase of a Miami hostel that the New York Times described as “gay-friendly” and Politico said was a “cesspool of vice”.
Falwell did not immediately reply to a request for comment.