GreenvilleOnline.com reports that the fundamentalist Christian college, has finally regained its non-profit status 34 years after losing it:
Bob Jones University lost its tax exemption after a 13-year battle with the IRS over whether the university’s policies against interracial dating precluded it as a non-taxable religious educational institution. The university didn’t admit any black students until 1971, 17 years after Brown vs. Board of Education. It then wouldn’t admit any students who were in a mixed-race marriage and created rules to prohibit students from interracial dating.
Bob Jones, in Greenville, South Carolina, is a niche school. Indeed, you may have only heard of it if you’re from a Christian fundamentalist background or follow that subculture closely. But the story of how Bob Jones lost its non-profit status offers timely insight into the contemporary religious right.
Bob Jones didn’t lose non-profit status overnight. Nor was it an outlier at the time. Although its discriminatory policies preceded desegregation, historian Randall Balmer has noted that it lost its non-profit status due to President Nixon’s crackdown on so-called “segregation academies.” (Among those segregation academies: Jerry Falwell’s Lynchburg Christian School.) Bob Jones received numerous warnings from the federal government and ignored each of them, but when the IRS finally rescinded its status the religious right reacted with outrage, as Balmer recounts:
As Elmer L. Rumminger, longtime administrator at Bob Jones University, told me in an interview, the IRS actions against his school “alerted the Christian school community about what could happen with government interference” in the affairs of evangelical institutions. “That was really the major issue that got us all involved.”
Bob Jones ended its ban a mere 17 years ago—right before then-President George W. Bush visited campus. The Lord moves in not-so-mysterious ways.
Although Bob Jones’s ban is history, it left a significant imprimatur on the religious right. Evangelicals still fear secular interference with sacred affairs. It’s embedded deep into the movement’s rhetoric and political priorities. It motivates their opposition to anti-discrimination provisions and their ongoing fear-mongering about the First Amendment rights of Christian schools. Just yesterday, the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Casey Mattox urged the House Judiciary Committee to remove Christian colleges from a public Department of Education list of institutions that have received exemptions from Title IX. And who can forget that 80 percent of white evangelicals just voted for the openly racist Donald Trump?
Bob Jones’s crusade to discriminate still haunts the religious right, even if the movement’s contemporary leaders are unwilling to admit it.