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What Is Bob Jones University?

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Seizing on Texas Governor George W. Bush’s controversial campaign stop at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, Democrats said this week that they will push for Congress to condemn the fundamentalist Christian college for barring interracial dating and espousing anti-Catholic views. [includes rush transcript]

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who lost to Bush in South Carolina’s primary but has kept his insurgent candidacy alive in other states, has blasted the Texas governor for not taking the university to task for its segregationist, anti-Catholic policies.

Bush has admitted to a campaign misstep and this week apologized to Cardinal John O’Connor in New York for failing to speak out against some teachings of the school, whose leaders have called the pope the anti-Christ.

Guest:

  • Ward Harkavy, reporter for the Village Voice who wrote a story on Bob Jones University that appears in this week’s issue, titled "The Right Stuff."
  • Rev. Mel White, Co-Chair of Soul Force. He is now embarked in a campaign against Fox TV, which bought Pat Robertson’s Family Channel for 1.9 billion dollars, and now features Robertson’s program "The 700 Club" three times a day on Fox.
  • Fred Clarkson, Institute for Democratic Studies in New York.

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Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Seizing on Texas Governor George Bush in South Carolina controversial campaign stop at Bob Jones University, Democrats said this week that they’re going to push for Congress to condemn the fundamentalist Christian college for barring interracial dating and espousing anti-Catholic views.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who lost to Bush in South Carolina’s primary but has kept his insurgent candidacy alive in other states, has blasted the Texas governor for not taking the university to task for segregationist, anti-Catholic policies.

Bush has admitted to a campaign misstep and this week apologized to Cardinal John O’Connor in New York for failing to speak out against some teachings of the school, whose leaders have called the Pope the anti-Christ.

Well, we’re joined right now by a reporter who is following George Bush in South Carolina, also did a piece in the Village Voice this week called "The Right Stuff." And he starts by saying, "Although being a born-again conservative means never having to say you’re sorry to the sinful secular media, George W. Bush, an acknowledged believer, is in full damage-control mode, hoping the press will ease up on him before the March 7th presidential primaries in New York and elsewhere. He apologized to Cardinal John O’Connor for pandering to the religious right at Bob Jones University. More apologies are on the way. 'Next question for G-Dub,' says Ward Harkavy, 'why did you suck up to people who hate, in particular, Catholics who are Irish?'

"Bob Jones U and its leaders are strong supports of radical Irish Protestant leader Ian Paisley. The school, and the picturesque town of Greenville, is the buckle on the state’s Bible belt and is notorious for being intolerant of everybody and everything that isn’t Anglo, Scottish, Irish, conservative, Protestant."

Well, we are joined by Ward Harkavy. Can you go on a little about what you saw at Bob Jones University? Welcome to Democracy Now! Are you there?

REV. MEL WHITE: This is Mel White. I’m here.

AMY GOODMAN: Ah, Mel White. Thanks very much. Well, why don’t we then start with you talking about Bob Jones University?

REV. MEL WHITE: Yeah. I come out of an evangelical Christian background and understand well what Bob Jones is from inside. And I hate that they are raised, at this point, as a kind of a symbol of everything evil, when, in fact, they have been pretty bad for a long time, and very few people are trying to create dialogue with them. And so, when we drag out their name and use them, caricature them now, it’s a bad scene.

They are also very anti-gay. And as a gay clergyman, I abhor their policies.

But I really think, Amy, we’re getting to the place now where we — this politics of blame, of blame by association, of sound bites, that it’s really leaving the country much worse off than when election campaigns begin.

AMY GOODMAN: In what way?

REV. MEL WHITE: Well, let’s talk about Bob Jones. You know, I do not like what they stand for. At the same time, we are an inclusive country, and we believe in the First Amendment and the First Amendment’s rights of folks, even like Bob Jones. And I don’t think candidates should hang around Bob Jones University for any reason. But at that same time, we can’t tar each other for our affiliations, for our associations, without really making people more confused about what are the real issues here.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mel White. He’s co-chair of Soul Force, actually is also now embarked in a campaign against FOX TV, which bought Pat Robertson’s Family Channel for close to two billion dollars and now features Robertson three times a day on FOX. We’re speaking to him in Long Beach, California.

We are joined by the reporter for the Village Voice, who has been following Bob Jones University, Ward Harkavy. Can you talk a little more about Bob Jones?

WARD HARKAVY: Yes, I can, Amy. Funny, I’m speaking from Long Beach, New York.

I am familiar with Reverend White, because when I lived in Colorado, I covered Focus on the Family, the powerful religious right broadcasting organization based in Colorado Springs.

I would agree with Reverend White that, of course, we have to be inclusive; however, I would say that a president’s role is also very symbolic in many ways. I think going to Bob Jones University shows that the President probably got some very bad advice, but he has a lot of advisors on the religious right, and I suppose that one of those advisors made a bad move.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about his advisors.

WARD HARKAVY: Well, there is a guy named Doug Weed, who ran for Congress in Arizona in 1992, who was an evangelical Christian and advisor to the Reagan White House. kind of the liaison from the Reagan White House to the religious right. Weed was a fellow who lost a secure Republican seat at the last minute, because ancient Barry Goldwater endorsed the Democrat in that race. I think that shows the split in the Republican Party between the non-religious right and the religious right.

AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about one of his aides who doesn’t agree with what he did at Bob Jones.

WARD HARKAVY: Yes, that would be Marvin Olasky. I think it’s important for people to understand that the religious right is not monolithic. You’ve got people who are very extreme, like the people of Bob Jones University, and then you’ve got the people like Marvin Olasky, who are also zealots, but —

AMY GOODMAN: He is at University of Texas-Austin?

WARD HARKAVY: Yes. Olasky was the guy who was first brought to national prominence, because Newt Gingrich loved his works. He’s kind of the — one of the intellectuals who prop up the anti-welfare stance of conservative Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined in the studio by Fred Clarkson, who is the Communications Director of the Institute for Democratic Studies in New York. What about how this issue came to the fore? Why George Bush, when he first went to Bob Jones University — actually, the media really didn’t do very much critical coverage of it.

FRED CLARKSON: Hardly a peep. And we didn’t hear anything from John McCain either — didn’t know from Bob Jones University.

The person who really made it an issue was Alan Keyes, in the Larry King CNN debate before the South Carolina primary. It was a really remarkable moment when Alan Keyes, who is about as capable of righteous indignation as anybody in the country, just turned to George Bush and blasted him, saying as an African American, as a Catholic, he was outraged by George Bush’s appearance at Bob Jones University and his failure to speak out, because when Alan Keyes was invited to speak, he went there, but he specifically addressed the problem of racism and religious intolerance at Bob Jones University and criticized them for it.

So it’s interesting how the issue has drifted away from the racism and religious intolerance of Bob Jones University, as to whether George Bush should have gone there or not. Alan Keyes went, but he spoke out.

AMY GOODMAN: And McCain said, at that debate, when asked, after Keyes raised it?

FRED CLARKSON: That’s right. McCain said — was grinning from ear to ear and said, "Well, I wasn’t invited to go, but I certainly would have said something had I been invited." It was a great moment for John McCain, because he has been able to exploit the situation ever since.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the anti-Catholic, what, anti-Mormon, segregationist views of the university, where they come from?

FRED CLARKSON: A bit, yeah. In fact, people can visit the Bob Jones University website to find out a bit about it themselves in response to all of this. If you go to the Bob Jones website, at the top of the page it will say, "The truth about Bob Jones University." And they spell it out themselves.

They believe in an apocalyptic worldview in which they feel that people who are engaged in interracial dating and marrying are "playing into the hands of the anti-Christ." And that’s a quote. They say here, "Bob Jones University opposes one world, one church, one economy, one military, one race, and unisex." And he says — they say that God made racial differences as he made gender differences. So they explain that they’re not racist. There are Asian American and African American students, and even student body presidents at the university, and that they just believe that they’re preserving their immortal souls by keeping the races separate.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, in the presidential debate, the Democratic presidential debate up at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Gore talked about the removal of tax-exempt status for Bob Jones University. Can you talk about the legislation and the Supreme Court decision?

FRED CLARKSON: A bit, yeah. Gore and Bradley were very clear about the legislative history. It goes back to the efforts by white racists in the South to avoid racial integration by setting up private non-profit, tax-exempt Christian academies, so people could avoid race mixing, as it were. And the Justice Department and the IRS began to enforce that.

Bob Jones became the cause celebre in 1982, ’83, with the religious right rallying around them over the issue of interracial dating. The IRS wanted to revoke their 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt status, because of their racist policies, and, in fact, they lost it, and it went to the Supreme Court, and the court upheld the right of the Congress to pass legislation appropriate to that and the IRS to issue appropriate regulations. So Bob Jones University is, in fact, the —

AMY GOODMAN: William Rehnquist was the dissenter.

FRED CLARKSON: Was he? Bob Jones University is more than about interracial dating then. It is the very symbol of federal policy that tries to separate out religious justification for racist policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Fred Clarkson of the Institute for Democracy Studies. Now, Reverend Mel White, you have longtime been an activist. In fact, isn’t it true that you met with Pat Robertson — I remember — years ago?

REV. MEL WHITE: Oh, yeah. I wrote his book for America’s Dates with Destiny and was a ghostwriter for a lot of these guys. So I know them pretty well.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain how you ended up being Pat Robertson’s ghostwriter.

REV. MEL WHITE: Well, in the old days of my confusion about homosexuality, I thought I was a sick and a sinful person, believing their rhetoric, and spent twenty-five years in therapy, including exorcism and electric shock, to try to get over being gay. When I finally accepted my sexual orientation as a gift from God, it was too late. I had already done this work. Swifty Lazar was my agent and Michael Korda was my publisher. So I went down, wrote their books, and then I went back to New York.

But in the process, I learned to know these guys, including Bob Jones, the second and third, and feel right now that I would stand with Fred and with the columnists from Village Voice against their policies. I would join Alan Keyes and the others in condemning them. But at the same time, I feel really sad that we don’t get a chance, after the fireworks are over, to sit down and talk about Bob Jones and the people there and the victims that these kids are of this well-meaning, but bad-headed policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Fred Clarkson about Southern Partisan, because McCain has condemned Pat Robertson. Is that right, Mel White?

REV. MEL WHITE: Oh, yeah. McCain —

AMY GOODMAN: Why did he feel, being in the Virginia primary, that he should distance himself from this Virginia Beach powerhouse?

REV. MEL WHITE: I think he was playing to the independent and liberal voters in New York and California —

AMY GOODMAN: Looking to the next primary.

REV. MEL WHITE: — and that he knew that he had lost Virginia in the process.

AMY GOODMAN: So he condemns Pat Robertson, yet he, himself, has a top advisor, Richard Quinn, who is editor-in-chief of Southern Partisan, a neo-Confederate publication that favors Bob Jones University.

Fred Clarkson, can you talk more about southern partisan and what this furor is about?

FRED CLARKSON: Yeah, Richard Quinn is the editor of Southern Partisan, which is one of the flagship magazines of the neo-Confederate movement that makes apologies for slavery and thinks that the South got a raw deal. There is a good bit of overt racialist writing in the magazine, although it’s not exclusively oriented that way. A lot of the neo-Confederate movement is about Southern nostalgia.

But, then again, it is about apology for the structures and the politics of the South, and there’s just no question about it. It’s been difficult for McCain, because he plays the race card, too. In appealing to the neo-Confederates, he waffled on the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the State House, just as George Bush did, and it’s one of the difficulties that any Republican candidate playing to the conservative wing in the South is going to have.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, People for the American Way is calling upon Senator John McCain to disavow his top campaign advisor’s views and to terminate Quinn’s involvement with his presidential campaign. Quinn, in his writings, has attacked Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, discounting the evils of slavery and commanding those who voted for former Ku Klux Klan leader David — commending those who voted for former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke.

Mel White, you are leading this campaign also around FOX. Can you explain what this buy was all about?

REV. MEL WHITE: The rhetoric of Robertson is heard three times, three hours daily, on the FOX Family Channel, because when he sold his family channel — that’s Pat Robertson’s Family Channel — to Rupert Murdoch for almost two billion dollars, he insisted on remaining as co-chair and at the same time keeping the 700 Club on three hours a day.

We just feel like it’s terribly inappropriate for this rhetoric of intolerance that flows out of Pat Robertson’s CBN and the 700 Club to be on the FOX channel, FOX Family Channel, and yet we have written for eighteen months to FOX executives, trying to get them to hear us. And since they refused to hear us, last Wednesday twenty-six clergy on our Executive Committee went back to FOX headquarters and they locked us out. Their security personnel at this giant marble and glass skyscraper on Wilshire Boulevard simply locked the doors and closed up the building. So we did a prayer vigil at those doors for two hours, keeping that building closed, to try to say to the country, "Don’t watch FOX Family. It’s not safe for children or adults."

AMY GOODMAN: Mel White, who is now co-chair of Soul Force. If people want to see your work, where can they go on the web or call?

REV. MEL WHITE: We have a web page, www.soulforce.org, where they can find our work with the United Methodists and the Presbyterians and the Episcopalians, all of whom have become as bad on the gay issue as Bob Jones University.

AMY GOODMAN: Ward Harkavy, finally, in your piece, "The Right Stuff," in the Village Voice, as you follow the candidates around South Carolina — George Bush, Sr., didn’t go to Bob Jones University. Why did George Bush, Jr. go?

WARD HARKAVY: Well, I think that George Bush, Sr. is probably a shrewder person. And I also believe that George W. Bush probably has a closer, more personal relationship with certain advisors of his who are from the evangelical and fundamentalist right. One of those people is this fellow, Doug Weed, who was —

AMY GOODMAN: We just have ten seconds.

WARD HARKAVY: OK. Well, I would say that —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it at that.

WARD HARKAVY: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: But if people want to read your article, they can go to the Village Voice at www.villagevoice.com. "The Right Stuff" is the piece about how Bush met his maker in South Carolina.

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