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University Surprised by Lifting of Ban
Bob Jones Drops Racial Dating Injunction That Became Part of Political Debate

By Jim Davenport
Associated Press
Sunday, March 5, 2000; Page A09

GREENVILLE, S.C., March 4—Bob Jones University's decision to lift its half-century ban on interracial dating has stunned students and the fundamentalist Christian school's supporters who learned about it Friday night in a national television interview with President Bob Jones III.

"I don't think even his own secretary knew what he was going to do," said school spokesman Jonathan Pait.

Thousands of students and supporters gathered at the university's auditorium to watch Jones's interview on CNN's "Larry King Live." Senior Naion Lundy said people were in shock.

"We didn't expect it at all," he said.

Lundy, also a sergeant with the university's public safety department, said today that reporters were not permitted to interview students and faculty on campus.

Jones said the extraordinary national scrutiny the school has received since Texas Gov. George W. Bush made a campaign appearance led to the move.

"This thing has gotten so out of hand," Jones said. "All of a sudden the university is at the center of a Republican presidential debate."

Bush appeared at the school last month and later apologized for failing to criticize the school's anti-Catholic views and racial policies.

The Greenville school banned interracial dating in the 1950s, when an Asian family threatened to sue after their son, a student, almost married a white girl, a school spokesman has said.

The first black student was not admitted until the 1970s, and the school lost its tax exemption in 1983 after a 13-year battle with the Internal Revenue Service, which said the school's policies were discriminatory.

The school had defended the dating ban based on a biblical interpretation that God created people differently for a reason.

Jeff Dayton graduated from Bob Jones last year and works at a Bible gift shop across the street. He and his wife, who still attends, were surprised and happy about the decision.

"I can tell you they are not Jew-hating, they are not Catholic-hating and they are not racist," Dayton said. "This was just an old rule that needed to be changed."

The university is a popular stop for Republican candidates seeking conservative support. Bush appeared at the school shortly after he lost to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the New Hampshire primary.

After losing to Bush in South Carolina, McCain's campaign made "Catholic Voter Alert" calls in the next states, Michigan and Washington, to tell voters of Bush's visit to the school.

Those remarks have hurt McCain more than Bob Jones, said Jerry Brockman, who owns a clothing store nearby.

"I just admire that university for sticking up for its principles," he said.

South Carolina House Speaker Pro Tem Terry Haskins, a Greenville Republican and Bob Jones graduate, resigned as co-chairman of McCain's state campaign after the Arizona senator's criticism increased.

He said Jones wrestles with reconciling deep spiritual convictions and the changing social and political landscape.

"It hurts him to be portrayed as an institution that teaches hate," Haskins said.

The school of 3,500 students has stuck to its fundamentalist guns. Jones III, president since 1971, and his father, who died in 1997, have been critical of those they believe have abandoned the strict teachings of the Bible, including Billy Graham and the pope.

But the Jones family almost reflects the changes facing the school.

Bob Jones IV, 33, is the first in four generations to break ranks for a career outside the university. Jones, a writer for the Christian magazine World, said he made a deliberate decision not to follow in his namesakes' footsteps.

He said his academic career belies the charge his father is anti-Catholic. He earned a master's degree in history at Notre Dame with the full support of his father, he said.

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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