Lindsey Graham hasn't minded people hating Catholics in the past -- so why start now?
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina speaking at the Iowa Republican Party's 2015 Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

If Republicans want to make the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett a referendum on respect for the Catholic faith, they’ve got the wrong guy in charge.


Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham is the proud recipient of an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, the most infamously anti-Catholic institution of higher learning in America. Since Democratic senators aren’t taking the Republican bait about questioning Barrett’s passionate religious views, perhaps Graham can lead the way.

Graham received his honorary doctorate from Bob Jones University in May 1999. To be fair, the university had by that time stopped using the words of Bob Jones Jr.--son of the school’s founder--who famously described Catholicism as “a satanic counterfeit, an ecclesiastic tyranny over the souls of men....the old harlot of the book of the Revelation.” Jones also had posited that all popes were “demon possessed.”

But even when Graham basked in the school’s admiration, its official website was still describing Catholics and Mormons as “cults which call themselves Christian.” And the explanation of it all, in public view, wasn’t all that kind to people of Amy Conan Barrett’s faith:

"If there are those who wish to charge us with being anti-Catholicism, we plead guilty. But we are not Catholic-haters. The Christian, scriptural mandate is to present Christ to the world and plead with all men everywhere to look to the Lamb of God, repent of their sins, and trust Him as their sin substitute and His righteousness to give them standing in the sight of God which they cannot have any other way.

"All religion, including Catholicism, which teaches that salvation is by religious works or church dogma is false. Religion that makes the words of its leader, be he Pope or other, equal with the Word of God is false.

"...We love the practicing Catholic and earnestly desire to see him accept the Christ of the Cross, leave the false system that has enslaved his soul, and enjoy the freedom of sins forgiven that is available for any of us in Christ alone."

Those words are no longer found on the Bob Jones University website. But I can assure you they were there then, because I copied them from the site in 2000 for a newspaper column wondering why Senator John Ashcroft had accepted a similar degree after speaking at the university.

The university had become a huge issue that then Governor George W. Bush almost blew his presidential campaign by speaking there to a crowd of 6,000. The late Senator John McCain, Bush’s presidential primary rival, just hammered Bush for his visit to the university and for a period, made it his top campaign issue.

Bush smartly embarked on a mea culpa tour that included a groveling confession of sorts at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. He was forced to renounce forcefully the bigotry of his erstwhile host.

Strangely, there’s no record of Lindsey Graham doing the same. Bob Jones University is a respected--and feared--conservative political powerhouse in Graham’s home state of South Carolina. So perhaps that honorary degree is still proudly gracing Graham’s office.

Now it should be noted that the self-described “world’s most unusual university” was actually more famous in 1999 for racism than religious bigotry. At the time Graham was honored, the university had in place a ban on interracial dating that had cost it its tax-exempt status in 1983.

In fact, it would be cool for Graham to question Barrett about her take on the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1983 which, according to a Greenville (SC) Journal article, “ruled the government’s interest in ridding education of racial discrimination trumped the university’s First Amendment rights to religious free speech, stripping the school of its nonprofit status.”

It should be noted that in the wake of the 2000 debacle, the university lifted its interracial ban and underwent a racial makeover. It even gave an honorary degree to Senator Tim Scott, Graham’s Black Republican colleague from South Carolina.

Now if you visit the school’s website at bju.edu and search “Catholic,” there’s no diatribe. But the first item is a profile of a department head who says, “I grew up in a Roman Catholic family…(and) “was saved through the influence of a local Christian school.” Another professor’s bio speaks of “rejecting the Catholic tradition he’d grown up with.” Alrighty, then.

The website describes homosexuality as “sinful,” promotes creationism, inequality of women in the church and opposes gay marriage, among its conservative social planks. So Graham should still be good with it.

Now, I’m guessing if asked about the anti-Catholicism, Graham would offer some sort of vintage 1999 Clintonian response like “I didn’t have relations with that university.” But if the Republicans really want to make a religious martyr out of Barrett, what better place to start than with a Bob Jones University honorary degree recipient?

C’mon Lindsey. How about just one little question for Barrett about the Pope being demon possessed?