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Bob Jones U. OKs Interracial Dating

Criticism following Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush's visit to Bob Jones University has led the school to drop its controversial ban on interracial dating.

"As of today, we've dropped the rule," Bob Jones III said on CNN's Larry King Live Friday night.

Jones told King that the school had no Bible verse to support its ban, and that it was "an insignificant" part of the school's stance against a one-world order. Jones said the blending of worldwide governments, ethnic groups and religions would signal the coming of the Antichrist and so the school stands against that.

"We don't have to have that rule," Jones said. "This thing is of such insignificance to us. It's so significant to the world at large, the media in particular, why should we have this thing here as an obstacle?"

Jones said the school had a greater concern for its graduates than for keeping the rule.

During Bush's appearance at the fundamentalist Christian school last month, the Texas governor told his audience that he shared their views. Bush later apologized for failing to criticize the school's anti-Catholic views and racial policies during his visit to the Greenville, S.C. campus.

"I'm pleased that they've changed the policy," Bush said Friday while campaigning in New York. "Right after my speech, I spoke out against the policy. The university has made the right decision."

The school banned interracial dating, although it started admitting black students after it lost its tax exemption in 1983 after a 13-year battle with the Internal Revenue Service that cited the school's discrimination.

Earlier Friday, the university used full-page newspaper advertisements in USA Today and South Carolina's largest newspapers to answer some of the national criticism directed at it.

GOP candidate Alan Keyes, who recently spoke at Bob Jones University, said Friday night he thought lifting the ban was "a good step forward."

"As you know I'm married to an Indian American, so our marriage would have violated their own guidelines," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

"I think this will help, so that the world will understand the real heart of Bob Jones University, and the people I met there and the people I know there. I think that's the shining truth that will come through."

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley said through a spokesman: "It's about time."

The university, in the Appalachian foothills city of Greenville, has 3,500 students. It has long established itself as a bastion of fundamentalism.

Jones III, president since 1971, and his father, Bob Jones Jr., who died in 1997, have been sharp-tongued about those they believe have abandoned the strict teachings of the Bible, including Billy Graham and the pope. Graham should not have reached out across denominations for his crusades, Jones III says. And rather than meet Pope JohPaul II when he visited Columbia in 1987, Bob Jones Jr. said he would "speak to the devil himself."

His grandfather, an evangelist and son of an Alabama sharecropper, was a product of the Bible-thumping, Jim Crow-era South. Bob Jones founded the school in 1927 in College Point, Fla. He later moved it to Cleveland, Tenn., then brought it to Greenville when the Chamber of Commerce offered to buy 170 acres of land for the school.

Today, Bob Jones University offers more than 100 undergraduate majors, from electrical engineering and aviation management to Bible teaching, and 55 graduate degrees, most of those religious or musically oriented.

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