Bush to speak at anti-gay school

College says homosexuality is "immoral" and should be treated like "lying, stealing and cheating."

By Jake Tapper

Published November 4, 2000 12:44AM (EST)

Despite his claims to be "a uniter, not a divider," on Friday morning at 11 a.m., Gov. George W. Bush is scheduled to speak at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich., an evangelical Christian school that has a policy of expelling students for being gay or lesbian.

When contacted, Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan said, "we're aware of the [school's] guidelines," and said that a more definitive statement would be forthcoming.

"That he would appear at a school that discriminates against gays to this degree illustrates how phony his compassionate conservatism is," said David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for gays.

"There's nothing compassionate about barring gays and lesbians from receiving an education, and that's clearly what this school is about."

John Elmore, coordinator of public relations for Cornerstone -- which was founded in 1941 and has 1,300 undergraduates and a total enrollment of 2,329 -- said "homosexuality does not fit in with the value system of our campus."

"We believe in the Biblical stand on sex, and the Biblical stand on morality," Elmore said. He said that students are not asked about their sexual preference when applying, but that "if we recognize that kind of behavior, he is not automatically pitched off campus." Someone on the faculty will talk to that student first and tell him to change his ways, Elmore said.

When asked if anyone had ever been expelled for being gay or lesbian, Elmore could not provide an answer. Asked whether it was appropriate to group homosexuality with "lying, stealing and cheating," Elmore said "you're asking me questions that I cannot answer."

The visit recalls Bush's infamous visit to fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., a school where anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon dogma is commonplace, and interracial dating is forbidden on campus. It took Bush almost a month to apologize for not speaking out against that school's policies, and then he only did so in a letter to Catholic leaders immediately before primaries in states such as Michigan and New York, with sizable Catholic voting blocs.

Cornerstone would seem to be a similar situation, except involving gays and lesbians. According to Cornerstone's student code of behavior, "the privilege of belonging to this community includes adherence to certain rules of procedure and conduct."

Those rules include, as "a minimum requirement" the idea that every member of the Cornerstone community "is obliged ... to avoid every form of immorality, including immoral sexual behavior, homosexuality, lying, stealing and cheating."

Engaging in any of the "immoral" activities can lead to a student's expulsion. "Behavior, either on campus or away, which indicates that a student has disregard for the spirit of the university standards may be sufficient reason to ask a student to withdraw from the university," the rules conclude.

The school is not known for acceptance. Cornerstone's president, Rex M. Rogers, once referred to feminism as "un-Biblical." Elmore deferred questions about the referral to Rogers, who could not be reached for comment.

The visit comes at an awkward time for Bush, who only hours ago looked to be shufflin' his way to the White House. But polls in swing states like Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania are still tight, and Bush has had better Thursdays.

Earlier in the day at a rally in Missouri, Bush said that his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, "want(s) the federal government to control Social Security like it's some kind of federal program," a gaffe that Democrats immediately seized upon as further evidence of his cluelessness.

Then on a tarmac at O'Hare Airport in Chicago later that night, Bush spokesman Karen Hughes confirmed a news account that Bush had been arrested from driving under the influence of alcohol in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1976, at the age of 30.

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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