By Jack Holland
Northern Ireland’s firebrand fundamentalist, the Rev. Ian Kyle Paisley, has cancelled his planned March visit to Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. Paisley, the founder and head of the anti-Catholic Free Presbyterian Church and of the Democratic Unionist Party, was due to speak at the fundamentalist campus’ annual Bible conference on March 19, 22 and 23.
A message on the university’s web site noted: "We will miss Dr. Paisley a great deal."
The cancellation was due to "scheduling" problems, according to the university.
Ian Paisley Jr., speaking for his father, said that the cancellation was "news to him." As far as he knew, the visit was still on schedule.
A Bob Jones spokesman would not answer questions about Paisley or his association with the 5,000-strong campus, whose motto is "whatever the Bible says is so."
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Paisley’s relationship with Bob Jones University has lately been attracting attention in the U.S. media because of the university’s links to John Ashcroft, President George W. Bush’s nominee for the post of attorney general. Both Paisley and Ashcroft have received honorary degrees from the university, Paisley in 1966 and Ashcroft in 1999. Paisley has spoken there on a regular basis since the 1960s and is believed to be on its board of directors. Ashcroft gave the commencement speech in May 1999.
Ashcroft’s relationship to the university has caused some disquiet among Republicans as well as Democrats. Until recently, the university outlawed interracial dating. But for Irish American Republicans, the Paisley link was also cause for concern. This is due to the history of Paisley’s anti-Catholic agitation in Northern Ireland and his and his church’s associations since the 1960s with violent Protestant paramilitary organizations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defense Association. Both organizations have been responsible for the murders of about 1,000 Catholics since 1966.
During the Senate nomination hearings, Ashcroft refused to say that he would reject any further invitations to speak at Bob Jones University, despite its associations. Last year, Bush spoke at the university but has since pledged not to do so again.
"Ashcroft should have said, ‘I won’t go back there,’ " according to Rep. Jim Walsh of New York, who is chairman of the Friends of Ireland. "I’d be a lot more comfortable with him if he’d refused. If he told them they were all wrong, I’d accept that."
However, the congressman added that he wouldn’t actually "condemn" the nominee for going there, but he would "condemn their values.".
Another Republican congressman who is a long-term activist on the Irish issue, Peter King from Long Island, said that while he supported Ashcroft’s nomination, "it was wrong for him to go to Bob Jones unless he’s going there to denounce him."
King said the university’s web site advertises "all of Paisley’s books. It’s carrying on some religious war against Catholics. It’s inexcusable."
A spokesman for Rep. Ben Gilman of New York, former chairman of the House International Relations Committee and a co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs in Congress, said the congressman declined to comment on the Ashcroft, Bob Jones and Paisley connection.
"It’s a matter for the Senate," he said.
Rep. Chris Smith from New Jersey could not be reached for comment.
Ashcroft ‘s nomination is expected to be voted on by Thursday. Republicans are confidant he will win, possibly with the support of four Democrats.