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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Trent Lott and the Scarlet R
Jonathan Pait
December 12, 2002

Ah, the scarlet "R." If ever you have it branded to the flesh of your reputation, you will find that many will be unable to see beyond the external signature. Not only that, but any important issues you may become involved in will be overshadowed by the ever-present "R." The facts and reasoning of your arguments will automatically be discounted. It will not be due to faulty reasoning or inaccuracies, but because you are deemed a racist.

I know, because I wear the scarlet "R." It would appear that Trent Lott does as well. Today, Lott and I share a common headache. We donít call it a migraine. We call it the Associated Press.

In case you have been enjoying your day and not paying attention to the media, let me fill you in. The AP first reported on December 11th the story about Trent Lott trying "to help Bob Jones University keep its federal tax-exempt status despite the schoolís policy prohibiting interracial dating two decades before his recent comments stirred a race controversy."

Oh, oh! This is further proof that the nasty Trent Lott is a closet racist! Racism by association is just as bad as out right cross burning. The AP went on to describe BJU as "a fundamentalist Christian school in Greenville, S.C., [whose] ban on interracial dating among students has long stirred controversy, from judicial nominations of jurists who have been involved in the schoolís various legal fights to presidential candidates, including President Bush, who have been criticized for visiting the campus."

It wasnít until an updated AP story hit the wire that readers would have any indication that the policy no longer exists at the school. Of course, that is inconsequential, right? Once you are branded a racist, you are always a racist. Besides, not only is the school racist, it is also "fundamentalist" -- or would those two terms be considered redundant to the liberal media?

When I arrived at my office today at Bob Jones University, I received E-mail from a friend letting me know that he would be praying for me and wished upon me the gift that it would be a one-day story. I replied, "The sad thing to me is that Trent Lott was right back in 1981. It is to bad the important discussion of first amendment rights gets trumped by the sexy racism charges."

Lott is being trounced because he wrote a friend of the court brief asking the Supreme Court to consider the first amendment ramifications of the pending ruling. He was not alone. Numerous organizations filed the same briefs (American Baptist Churches, the General Conference of Mennonite Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, and the United Presbyterian Church -- to mention a few). They did so, not because they agreed with the policy, but because the saw the larger issue.

It is an ugly discussion, but an important one. BJUís interracial dating policy was not considered illegal. BJU had non-discriminatory admissions policies. It did not break any stated non-discriminatory policies of the time. It was left to the court to decide if the Revenue Ruling 71-447 and Sections 170 and 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code even applied in this case. While certainly not all Christians (fundamentalist or otherwise) held the belief, it was a religious belief. BJU was to be penalized because it held a belief that, while not illegal, was against "prevailing public policy." The question upon which BJU fought the battle against the IRS was not concerning the correctness of the policy, but the right of a religious organization to hold an unpopular belief without fear of governmental retribution.

Joe Sobran said it well in an article written in 1983 that appeared in The Washington Times.

"Many years ago--it seems an age--religious freedom was thought of as a liberal cause. So was the freedom of association. Bob Jones University is a private and religious institution which is voluntarily attended, and presumably has the right of any Little League or Boy Scout troop to lay down rules of membership. These rules may be objectionable to other people, but the point of a private institution is precisely that if may conduct itself according to its own rules."

But today something has changed. All sorts of public criteria are expected to be applied, indiscriminately, to private institutions. This can only mean, in the long run, that private institutions and associations will cease to be private. All will come under state supervision and face state sanctions."

Ah, Mr. Sobran, you are a prophet. Your final analysis in your article is dead on.
"But surely we should be alert to the dangers lurking in the stateís power to bring pressure on institutions to conform to a single standard. Will the refusal to ordain women now cost other churches their tax exemptions? We canít be sure anymore. Our law has been deprived of one of the chief traits of law: predictability. Nobody can outguess the judiciary."
Twenty years ago when he took the position that BJU was entitled to its tax exemption, Trent Lott did so on the basis of First Amendment Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. It was religious freedom, not racism, that motivated Trent Lott, even as it did President Reagan at that very time when he ordered the Justice Department to return BJUís tax-exempt status because he believed the institutions First Amendment rights were being trampled. President Reagan was not a racist, and neither is Trent Lott.

Yet, none of this matters now because Mr. Lott wears the scarlet "R." He can have no intentions other than those driven by racial hatred. Donít give him the reputation of being a protector of religious freedom. No, that must be trumped by his reputation of being a racist. Thankfully, we can remember a saying by the founder of Bob Jones University, "Your character is what God knows you to be; your reputation is what men think you are."

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