Bob Jones University Drops Interracial Dating Ban
Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University (BJU), announced March 3 that the fundamentalist school is dropping its longstanding ban on interracial dating. The move comes after widespread criticism of the policy in the wake of presidential candidate George W. Bush's campaign appearance at the school. Jones surprised students and supporters by announcing the policy change during an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live." Jones acknowledged that recent scrutiny of the school's policies was behind the decision. "This thing has gotten so out of hand," he said. "All of a sudden the university is at the center of a Republican presidential debate."The southern school adopted its ban on interracial dating in the 1950s. Ironically, the policy was not instituted in response to concerns of white parents, but came after an Asian family threatened to sue the school when their son, who was a student at the school, nearly married a white girl. BJU did not admit black students until the 1970s. The school lost its tax-exempt status in 1983 after a 13-year battle with the Internal Revenue Service, which said the school's policies violated federal law.The school had justified its ban on interracial dating by saying that God created people differently for a reason.George W. Bush spoke at the school prior to South Carolina's primary. Although other candidates have spoken at BJU over the years without incident, the appearance by Bush was portrayed by political foe John McCain as an endorsement of the school's extreme beliefs, including its prohibition on interracial dating and its anti-Catholic views. Bush subsequently made it clear that he does not share the school's controversial views, and apologized for missing an opportunity to speak against bigotry during his visit to BJU.South Carolina House Speaker Pro Tem Terry Haskins, a Greenville Republican and Bob Jones graduate, quit as co-chair of McCain's South Carolina campaign organization in response to McCain's remarks. Haskins said Bob Jones III is serious about trying to reconcile deep spiritual convictions with a changing social and political landscape. "It hurts him to be portrayed as an institution that teaches hate," Haskins said.Bob Jones University is a school of 3,500 students with a strict fundamentalist bent. Its presidents have been outspoken in their criticism of other Christian leaders, including Billy Graham, whom they criticize for reaching out to many denominations during crusades. When Pope John Paul II visited South Carolina in 1987, the late Bob Jones, Jr. said he would rather "speak to the devil himself" than meet with the Pope.Dropping the interracial dating ban may suggest that the school is ready to move more toward the evangelical mainstream. Another sign of changing times is that Bob Jones IV, son of the current president, earned a master's degree in history at Notre Dame, a Catholic school.In a related story, BJU may face congressional censure for its religious views. Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) has sponsored a resolution denouncing the theological views of the fundamentalist college."Christianity doesn't belong to these evangelicals [sic] any more than the flag belongs to military militias," Torricelli said. "This is a faith that belongs to everybody." One sponsor of Torricelli's resolution went so far as to compare the school to Islam's Ayatollah Khomeini.Supporters of the school note that many of the resolution's supporters have sought support from urban black congregations and from Jewish groups which hold similar views on interracial dating.Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson acknowledged that he believes many of the beliefs of BJU are "wrong and out of the mainstream of evangelical thought," but added, "Since when does Congress have the right to issue official denunciations of anyone's theology? Is the Senate now going to rule on which religious opinions are bigoted and which aren't? This is precisely what the religion clauses of the First Amendment were designed to prevent—federal action condemning particular churches or doctrines."Republican leaders say it is unlikely the resolution will come to the House floor for a vote.