During the South Carolina Republican primary campaign, George Bush has been condemned by both Democrats and Republicans for speaking at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. (Alan Keyes spoke there, too, but with different results.) That the appearance of any political candidate at BJU should stir up waves of heated rhetoric and indignation demonstrates just how ridiculous the political process has become in the United States.
For those not familiar with Bob Jones University, it is a fundamentalist Christian university that has been a center of controversy the past two decades. Founded in 1927 by Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., a Christian evangelist, BJU moved to its present location in 1947.
The institution was founded upon principles of Protestant fundamentalism, including a literal belief in the Bible, abstinence from alcoholic beverages, and a host of other strict rules that govern the activities of students, faculty, and administrators.
Those who attend or work at BJU must adhere to the system of beliefs and regulations to remain in good standing. At present, the university has about 5,000 students and has an excellent academic reputation.
Jones also believed – like many other Protestant fundamentalists of his era – that God ordained racial segregation. In fact, Jones believed that people of black African descent bore a special curse that God had placed upon some descendants of Noah following the Great Flood. That curse made blacks inferior to whites and condemned them to be servants. Because of what the people at BJU believed to be their servile status, BJU refused admission to blacks until 1971. The university still does not permit interracial dating of any kind.
(It should be added that the Biblical scholars of all persuasions generally agree that no such curse was placed upon those of African descent. Even most old-line fundamentalists have abandoned that belief. Many Protestant fundamentalists, however, do believe there should be some separation of the races.)
During Jimmy Carter's presidency, the Internal Revenue Service attempted to lift BJU's tax-exempt status because of the college's racial policies. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the IRS and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A court found in favor of the university's position, but the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, concluding, "Certain governmental interests are so compelling that conflicting religious practices must yield in their favor."
If the statement sounds ominous, that is because it is. The government was basically decreeing that Bob Jones University had no right to exist because part of its doctrinal statement was out of step with the prevailing views of the state.
Thus, BJU was no longer a tax-exempt institution, but the college continued to flourish and even grow, as contributions actually increased. In fact, enrollment of black students and other minorities increased in the years after the Supreme Court's decision. The government's decision had backfired, as BJU supporters rallied behind the university.
Not being able to shut down the university, the government has taken a different approach: to marginalize the college and its faction by shaming anyone who makes a speech on the campus. Therefore, when George Bush, Jr., made his speech, the political class was ready. Vice President Al Gore condemned Bush's appearance, as did former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, who is attempting to outrun Gore to the left. One does not have to support BJU's racial policies to perceive the naked hypocrisy of Gore and Bradley. Both men have actively sought the support and endorsement of Al Sharpton, described by columnist Michael Kelly as "a professional monger of racial hatred, a career inciter of race-violence."
Kelly, in a recent Washington Post column, points out that Sharpton's actions have led directly to the murder of eight people, including a Jewish seminary student who was stabbed to death by a black mob in Brooklyn in 1991 after Sharpton had incited the group to violence. Sharpton and his followers have referred to "blood-sucking Jews," and used other such slurs. Yet, Gore, Bradley, and Hillary Clinton recently have all sat at Sharpton's feet in hopes for his blessings.
The Republican Party has been no better. John McCain has not spoken at BJU, but declared that if he did, he would condemn the university's racial practices. Alan Keyes did speak there and referred to the university's policies as "demons to be cast out." (Interestingly, the BJU audience, which has a strong anti-Roman Catholic bias, gave Keyes a much more enthusiastic reception than it gave Bush, even though Keyes is Catholic.)
Keyes is free to speak his mind, as is McCain, but one must remember that BJU does not force its guidelines upon anyone. Those who do not agree with the university's policies are free not to attend or work there. There is no coercion involved, and the BJU administration has never begun a riot or killed anyone. In short, people are at BJU – white, black and other races – because they want to be there.
Such choices are anathema to the political classes, which demand punishment from those who stray from the statist agenda. Thus, people who attend BJU or work there are to be marginalized, demonized, and forced to the outer fringes of society. All whites associated with BJU are to be labeled as racists and skinheads, while all BJU black students are Uncle Toms and lawn jockeys.
When it comes to pet political causes, the political class suddenly forgets its own "cherished" notions of freedom of speech and freedom of association. If it truly believed in freedom, then those who sought a worshipful audience with the likes of Al Sharpton would never condemn someone who sought an audience with gentle, law-abiding Christians.
One can only conclude, then, that the political class does not believe in freedom of speech or association of any kind, except that which is to their own advantage. People may dismiss such rhetoric simply as political talk, but we have seen on occasion when the political classes have been able to put their prejudices into action.
Whether their target is Bob Jones University or the Branch Davidians at Waco, one can be assured that the political class will place anyone in its crosshairs who does not bow down to the desires of politicians.
Professor Anderson teaches economics at North Greenville College in South Carolina.