- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The religious freedom laws that several states have passed are just as wrong as laws that allowed racial segregation a century ago if they allow people to discriminate, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn said Thursday.

South Carolina’s lone congressional Democrat, serving his 12th term, spoke to reporters for nearly 90 minutes, touching on topics ranging from the financial problems at his alma matter, South Carolina State University, to his own future and how the presidential race might shake out in South Carolina in 2016.

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RELIGIOUS FREEDOM LAWS

Clyburn said he has stayed quiet for years as states have passed laws that supporters say ensure religious freedom, but opponents say allow discrimination based on someone’s beliefs or sexual orientation. The recent furor in Indiana pushed him over the edge.

“I think I’ve reached the point I’m going to stop talking internally,” Clyburn said.

The laws are part of a broad movement by conservatives to marginalize poorer people and those with liberal views, Clyburn said.

He said other developments, like the U.S. Supreme Court throwing out limits on campaign contributions, are hampering progressive lawmaking and increasing divisiveness in the U.S. He said the news reminds him of the period after the Civil War and Reconstruction when Southern states passed segregation laws.

“Anything that has happened before can happen again,” Clyburn said.

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SC STATE

Clyburn, a 1962 graduate of SC State, called reporters into his office to mainly talk about the school.

He said he is especially offended by reports he doesn’t give the school money. Clyburn said Thursday that his annual golf tournament and other events have raised $1.2 million for SC State’s endowment in the past 25 years. Clyburn also gives money from speeches and other appearance fees to a scholarship fund, which totals about $70,000.

SC State projects it will owe $23.5 million by this summer, but Clyburn said that shouldn’t be a death blow. He said the university could be turned around by taking steps like opening the Board of Trustees to people who live outside South Carolina and getting a solid management team in place. He saved his harshest words for the current trustees.

“You’ve got a lot of people setting policy, and they can barely spell policy,” Clyburn said.

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PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Clyburn said he won’t endorse anyone to be the Democratic nominee in South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary in 2016 until the field is set. And there is a chance he might not endorse anyone at all.

In 2008, Clyburn said he voted for Barack Obama, but kept that to himself. Publicly, he supported no one until endorsing Obama in June, nearly four months after South Carolina’s primary.

In 2004, Clyburn endorsed U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt from Missouri.

“I have been cautioned before that if I get overly involved publicly on behalf of any candidate to the extent that other candidates stay out of it, that would not be good for South Carolina maintaining its early primary status,” Clyburn said, adding he can still wink at a candidate he likes.

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CLYBURN’S FUTURE

Clyburn turns 75 in July and is in his 23rd year in the U.S. House. He said he is still healthy and hasn’t decided when he might retire. He said his wife of nearly 54 years, Emily, cut off the discussion last time he tried to bring it up, saying he still had too much to do.

“I could get up one morning and decide I was just sick of this, tired of it - I want to go to the golf course,” Clyburn said. “But there’s one thing about getting to be north of 70 - you don’t score as well on the golf course as you used to. Golf becomes a little more frustrating.”

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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