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University takes out full page ads to answer critics

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Bob Jones University is using full-page newspaper advertisements to answer national criticism of its interracial dating ban and other issues that cropped up after Republican presidential contender George W. Bush made a campaign stop at the fundamentalist Christian school last month.

In the "Letter to the Nation," University President Bob Jones III says the school in Greenville has been wrongly painted as racist and anti-Catholic. The issue is religious freedom, Jones wrote. The ad appears in USA Today and the three largest South Carolina papers, in Columbia, Charleston and Greenville.

"We do not expect everyone to agree with us or like us," Jones wrote. "The cross of Jesus Christ is a dividing line for some. We don't quake or blush with embarrassment over the term 'religious conservatives.' "

Bush also has been criticized for stopping at the school and not taking aim at some of the school's positions.

Jones has an essay on the school's Web site that describes Roman Catholicism and Mormonism "as cults which call themselves Christian."

"My regret is that I didn't speak out against anti-Catholic bias when I had the opportunity to do so. I had the mike," Bush said this week at a Catholic family center in Cleveland.

The school's ban on interracial dating has drawn the most fire — including proposals in state legislatures and Congress to publicly condemn the school for its policy.

In today's ads, Jones says the school admits students of various races and works at "promoting racial harmony" in the community.

The university is not anti-Catholic, said Jones, adding that those in the school "love (Catholics) in Christ."

"There is a wide gulf between Catholic and Baptist/Protestant beliefs," Jones wrote. "Nevertheless, we respect the freedom of all Roman Catholics to have their beliefs, just as we do individuals in other faiths."

The school lost its tax exemption in 1983 after a 13-year battle with the Internal Revenue Service that cited the school's discrimination. BJU now admits blacks but keeps the ban on interracial dating based on a biblical interpretation that God created people differently for a reason.