Another Excuse to Bash Bob Jones University

The administrators of Bob Jones University were wrong and foolish to officially discourage inter-racial dating, so they’ve brought on their own heads (and the heads of graduates like me) much of the criticism in the press.

But as inexcusable as the school’s former policies were, there’s no justification for perpetuating falsehoods about it, especially since the school’s former president changed the policy and set up a scholarship to encourage minority enrollees. But on the occasion of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s death David Corn, editor at The Nation, takes the opportunity to bash Bob Jones U.

Twelve years later, [Rehnquist] was the only justice to say that Bob Jones University–that hotbed of racial discrimination and religious bigotry–had a legal right to keep African-Americans off its campus.

It’s not quibbling to point out that the infamous Bob Jones University Supreme Court case was not about whether the school “had a legal right to keep African-Americans off its campus.” African-Americans and other minorities were already students. The case concerned the school’s ban on interracial dating. Yes, both are wrong-headed, but for perspective on the difference between segregation and anti-miscegenation, consider the fact that in Bob Jones U.’s home state of South Carolina, marriage between blacks and whites stopped being illegal only in 1998.

And calling Bob Jones University a “hotbed of racial discrimination and religious bigotry” just reveals Corn’s ignorance. “Hotbed” implies that the school fostered “racial discrimination,” but that simply isn’t the case. During my time there, no one ever promoted racism, and if others were racist, they kept it to themselves. I’m not suggesting Corn take it from me–he should interview minority graduates to see what they think, although the results might not jibe with his prejudged conclusions.

Corn might not believe it, but the Bob Jones Supreme Court case was more about ego than race: the school’s president was essentially saying, “how dare the IRS tell us what to do?” Had the IRS left the school alone, the rule eventually would have been only another embarrassing footnote from Southern history. Instead, it became an issue of religious liberty and defiance of governmental interference, making it extremely difficult for the school’s administration to back down without losing face. For proof, consider the John Roberts memo from that time in which the Supreme Court nominee suggests that Bob Jones, III–the president of the school– “go soak his head” after complaining to the Reagan administration. Why was Jones making such a fuss? He was annoyed that Reagan hadn’t done more to keep in the U.S. an Asian minister who worked with Southern blacks. Clearly, Jones’ alleged racism was not in play, but his position of defiance towards the federal government was apparent.

Bob Jones University had a rule against interracial dating in the first place because Southern culture became more influential than Christian hermeneutics in setting social regulations; no voices of dissent existed to offer a corrective. Ironically, the same thing seems to happen to Corn. To members of the politically liberal, Nation-reading culture, Bob Jones University represents everything evil about the world, so Corn can play fast and loose with the facts–no one at the Nation would blink at seeing that group of people slandered.

That would be fine were Corn’s goal to inflame the culture wars. But to foster civil discourse and respect among different groups, one has to understand and represent accurately the other side. One could argue that Bob Jones didn’t do that in 1983; neither has David Corn in 2005.

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