NEW YORK (Jan. 23)
Robert Billings, a former official of the Moral Majority who is now director of the regianal liaison office of the Department of Education (DOE) in Washington, is the author of the speech, mailed by a DOE regional director in Denver to six western states, which deplored the erosion of “Christian values” in American public schools, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has learned
Billings, a former executive director of the Moral Majority, has been described as the “Christian Right’s inside man ” in the Reagan Administration, according to Congressional sources. These sources asserted that Billings, who identifies himself as a doctor, recieved his doctorate from a Tennessee correspondence school since shut-down by state officials after it was labeled a “diploma mill.” Billings could not be reached for comment.
Billings’ role as author of the speech distributed by Thomas Tancredo, head of the DOE’s regional office for western states in Denver, surfaced today as Jewish community organizations along with Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D. Colo.) stepped up criticism of Tancredo’s use of public funds to mail the speech to Christian schools, and inadvertently, to an undetemined number of Jewish schools.
The 12-page speech was attached to a cover letter, signed by Tancredo, on DOE stationary. The cover letter described as a “dangerous phenomenon” that “we see more and more signs of governmental intervention into areas of parental responsibility which have, for centuries, been held inviolate.” Tancredo invites recipients of the letter to “feel free to edit, reproduce and distribute as you see fit.”
D.O.E. BRUSHES ASIDE CRITICISM
The speech, which praised Christian schools and said “godlessness” was taking over in “this Christian nation,” drew an angry response from Schroeder, who, while seeking an investigation of the use of federal funds for the mailing, asked acting Secretary of Education Gary Jones whether this represented “official policy of the Department of Education to promote or establish a Christian nation.”
DOE officials in Denver and Washington brushed aside Schroeder’s criticism, in separate interviews with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Greg Cunningham, special assistant to the regional representative in Denver, said the mailing of the speech by his superior, Tancredo, was not a reflection of departmental policy.
SAYS CONTROVERSY DUE TO JEWISH ‘HYPER-SENSITIVITY’
Cunningham blamed the controversy, partly, on the “hyper-sensitivity of certain elements in the Jewish community. ” He did not identify those elements. The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs in New York, which provided the JTA with a copy of the cover letter and the attached speech, has written a letter of protest to Secretary Jones.
According to Cunningham, the speech, which officials in Washington said was delivered some five years ago by Billings to an unidentified group, was sent to Tancredo by Billings with the request that the regional representative in Denver pass the information on to “constituent groups” concemed with Christian education.
Cunningham asserted that it was “common policy to pass along expressions of opinion to constituent groups who might have an interest in Christian education, regardless of whether they agree or disagree.” He added that the views expressed in this speech by Billings, and other items passed on to the constituent groups, is “not a reflection of policy” at the regional level or in Washington.
Cunningham said he did not believe the speech “plowed any new ground” and that Billings sought to convey the position of religious freedom and tolerance in the U.S. He said Billings was Tancredo’s immediate superior in Washington. Billings reports directly to the Education Secretary.
D.O.E. OFFICIAL CITES ‘INTENT’
Tom Moore, deputy assistant for public affairs at the DOE in Washington, said in a JTA interview that the “intent” was to circulate the speech to constituent groups interested in Christian education.
According to Moore, Jones has instructed the Department’s Office of General Council to conduct a probe into the use of federal funds by Tancredo to mail the speech. If it was determined that the mailing violated some federal statute, the govemment could be reimbursed for the fee, Moore said.
Aides to Schroeder, a member of the House’s subcommittee on civil rights,said the Congresswoman has asked the U.S. post master general to conduct an investigation.