No stranger to debate, Liberty University has ended any discussion that they might not field the best team in the country.

Liberty finished first in the rankings of three national policy debate groups—a feat that no college has accomplished before—after flirting with the distinction for several years.

"That's a big accomplishment. I'm actually surprised they haven't done it before," said John Katsulas director of forensics at Boston College and president of the American Debate Association. "It demonstrates overall excellence in their program."

For the last three years, Liberty has finished in the top three in the ADA, National Debate Tournament, and Cross Examination Debate Association.

Katsulas said Liberty has consistently done well in policy debate tournaments because of the university's "giant debate budget." Liberty spends about a quarter of a million dollars on its team each year, said the team's coach, Brett O'Donnell, who is on a campaign to raise a $10-million endowment.

"It's very important that Christians know what they believe and why they believe it," O'Donnell said. "Debate helps you understand the arguments behind your belief system, not just your belief system."

Liberty, which focuses on debate to train its students in advocacy, sends about 75 percent of its debaters to law school. "Liberty is not training their students to be preachers, they're training their students to be lawyers, business leaders, and good public citizens," Katsulas said. "They become better speakers, better researchers, and have a grasp of the burning public issues of the day."

Other Christian colleges have also used their debate teams to bring home national trophies this year.

Bethany University's debate team took the Novice National Debate Championships held in Rome, Georgia, March 10-12.

The 450-student school in Scotts Valley, California, began its parliamentary debate team last spring, said communications program director James Stewart. Bethany defeated larger schools, including the United States Air Force Academy and the University of New Mexico, at the tournament.

For the second time, Patrick Henry College's moot court team won the National Moot Court Tournament held at the University of Texas (Arlington) January 21 and 22.

The college swept the tournament with first-, second-, and third-place wins, an achievement not yet accomplished by any other college in the moot court association's history. Moot court is an imitation of an appellate court proceeding.

Patrick Henry's chancellor, Michael Farris, said about one-third of the school's students participate in either moot court or debate. The school located in Purcellville, Virginia, is made up primarily of former homeschool students and focuses on training leaders in the public square.

"Homeschoolers have had to defend themselves and their right to exist. They've seen in legislation and courtrooms their right to debate," Farris said. "They realize that when debates happen, people don't go to the basketball court and play horse. Debate changes the world."

Related Elsewhere:

More on Liberty's, Bethany's, and Patrick Henry's debate teams are available on their websites.

News about Liberty's debate team includes:

Falwell university debate team goal: conquer thine enemy | The football team doesn't have a prayer, and heaven knows the basketball team needs help. But the debate team at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University looks like a mighty David in a land of rhetorical Goliaths. (Associated Press, April 8, 2006)
Liberty Debaters Make Their Point | Ready for some red-hot competition from the top college teams in the country? No, we don't mean March Madness. In this week's Assignment America, Steve Hartman reports on something a little more … refined. (March 17, 2006, CBS News)
Cut, Thrust and Christ | Why evangelicals are mastering the art of college debate. (Feb. 6, 2006, Newsweek)