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Jewish World Review March 1, 2000 /24 Adar 1, 5760

John Leo

John Leo
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Bush's appearance at Bob Jones U. will dog him all the way -- GEORGE W. BUSH seems to think that the controversy over his speech at Bob Jones University will fade in coming weeks. But it won't. As campaigning heats up in states with large numbers of politically active minorities and Roman Catholics, the speech will come up again and again. If he gets the Republican nomination, he will hear about it from Al Gore right up to Election Day.

Nothing in Bush's Feb. 2 talk was dishonorable or offensive. It was a standard stump speech calling for standards and discipline in public schools, respecting and rebuilding the military, and returning dignity and honor to the White House.

But he spoke under the auspicies of a university that forbids interracial dating and has historically been committed to the notion that the Bible calls for the separation of the races. Bush likes to point out that his brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, is married to a Mexican-American woman. What he doesn't say is that if Jeb and Columba Bush had attended Bob Jones University, they wouldn't have been allowed to date. A bit earlier, Mrs. Bush may not have been allowed to enroll.

The Bob Jones tradition has managed to combine negative attitudes toward non-whites with negative attitudes toward non-fundmentalist Christians, Catholics mostly, but members of some other Protestant denominations as well. Bob Jones Sr., founder of the university, was a fanatic anti-Catholic, active in the movement to defeat Al Smith, the Catholic Democratic nominee for president in 1928.

Bob Jones Jr., son of the founder, was a close friend and ally of Ian Paisley, the rabidly anti-Catholic leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party. In 1966, two days after Paisley was released from prison, Jones traveled to Northern Ireland to give Paisley an honorary degree from Bob Jones University. (Others who received Bob Jones honorary degrees around the same time were George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Lester Maddox.)

Paisley thinks the Catholic Church is an instrument of the devil and "the mother of all harlots." "Popery is contrary to Christ's gospel," he said in one sermon. "It is the anti-Christ. We ought to pray against it." He refers to the pope as "the great fornicator."

In their 1986 book "Paisley," Irish journalists Ed Moloney and Andy Pollak wrote that Paisley and Bob Jones Jr. "share a profound hostility, bordering on paranoia, toward any religious group, however evangelical, which has any time for ideas deemed by them not to be based on the infallible Bible ...

"From (Jones) Paisley learned about the extraordinary variety of deviations from the true American Protestantism: dubious Southern Baptists, neo-evangelicals like Billy Graham (already a favorite Paisley target), followers of 'neo-orthodoxy,' 'pseudo-fundamentalists,' false revivalists, and the 'new pentecostalists' of the charismatic movment -- a particular anathema to Jones ...

"(Jones) was also an apologist for slavery, arguing that the average black worker on a plantation in the Deep South before the American Civil War was better off than the average black unemployed man in America's urban slums in the late twentieth century."

Paisley has made more than 50 trips to speak at Bob Jones University. On a 1981 trip, Paisley gave the opening prayer in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Catholics were outraged. When House speaker Ramon Schwartz, an Episcopalian, apologized to the state's Catholics, Bob Jones wrote him an angry letter. "Your weakness and folly were apparent to all," he wrote. "As a Protestant I will be expecting an apology from you the next time you invite a priest to pray in the House."

That same year, Bob Jones University asked the Reagan administration to grant it tax-exempt status despite the fact that it was practicing racial discimination. The administration said yes, but retreated after a storm of protest. Partly out of embarrassment, the administration decided to deny the incendiary Paisley a visa in 1982. Angry over this denial, Bob Jones Jr. called on G-d to smite Secretary of State Alexander Haig "hip and thigh, bone and marrow, heart and lungs." Jones charged that the action by Haig, a Catholic, was "absolutely nothing but Catholic bigotry," and for good measure he called Pope John Paul a "perfect example of anti-Christ."

George W. Bush is a decent and honorable man. What was he doing at Bob Jones University? "When I go to speak to voters," he said in a TV interview, "I don't necessarily have to embrace the policies of the university." That's a fair point. But when the host or sponsor is that far from your own principles, you have to say something about in your speech or not go at all.

Alan Keyes spoke at Bob Jones, too. Keyes is a living symbol of everything Bob Jones seems to resent: He is a black Roman Catholic who must have dated interracially, since his wife is from India. Keyes did the right thing. He spoke about the need for racial and religious tolerance. Bush didn't. He made a mistake, and unless he returns to the issue he will pay a price.

In New York state, for instance, blacks don't vote in Republican primaries, but Catholics do: 46 percent of registered Republicans are Catholics. Most of them know who Ian Paisley is and what he represents. No, this issue isn't going away on its own.

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, John Leo