NEW YORK (Feb. 21)
Robert Billings, the Education Department official who authored a speech lamenting that godlessness had taken over a once” Christian “United States, acknowledged today that the Department was insensitive to its Jewish constituents when the speech was inadvertently mailed to Jewish schools in six western states.
Billings, the Department’s director of regional liaison, however, affirmed the Department prerogative to distribute and circulate through the use of federal funds information to various constituent groups that would be of interest to them.
“It is wrong to send any kind of speech to constituent groups,” Billing said in a telephone interview from Washington with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York. This particular speech, mailed from the Department’s regional office in Denver to Jewish schools, demonstrated “an insensitivity” to the Department’s Jewish constituents, Billings said.
Jewish organizations complained to the Education Department that the speech, sent out by Tom Tancredo, the Department’s regional representative in Denver, to Christian educators, conflicted with the constitutional guarantee of church-state separation and that it was insulting to the American Jewish community.
APOLOGY TO THE AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS
Last week the Department issued a formal apology to the American Jewish Congress, saying the Department “regrets that this action gave offense to some members of the general public, including your constituents. “The apology, written by Thomas Moore, deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, and addressed to AJCongress executive director Henry Siegman, said:
“Certain language contained in the speech, particularly the reference to a ‘Christian nation’, does show an insensitivity to the very real and legitimate concerns which have been expressed. Had this office been consulted, this particular speech would not have been distributed.”
Rep. Pat Schroeder (D. Col.), meanwhile, complained to the Education Department that it was inappropriate for the Department to use federal funds for mailing a speech extolling a “Christian” nation, and called for a Postal Service investigation. Aides to Schroeder said she will continue to pursue the matter despite Moore’s apology.
SURPRISED THE SPEECH WAS MAILED OUT
Billings recalled today that he had delivered the speech some five years ago to a conference of Christian Baptist educators meeting in North Carolina. At the time he was a Moral Majority official.
He said that at least two years ago, Tancredo contacted Billings, his superior, and asked whether he had any speeches he had delivered in the past. He said he gave Tancredo the 12-page speech that was eventually distributed and could have given him a couple of others, although he could not recall the exact number.
Billings said he was surprised that Tancredo had, after two years, used the speech in a mailing to Christian educators. While he said he did not feel there was anything inappropriate with mailing information to constituents, “it would be wrong “if the views contained in the speech were those of the Federal government.
In the speech, Billings lamented that “godlessness is now controlling every aspect of our society. “Citing legal actions against some church schools, he asked, “How can these things be happening in American, this land of freedom, this Christian nation.”
SAYS HE SHOULD HAVE USED A DIFFERENT PHRASE
Billings said today that instead of using the phrase “Christian nation,” he may have been “smarter” to have said a “biblical nation,” and that what he was stressing for a return to “Judaeo-Christian ethics.”
Billings also sought to clarify the characterization, contained in an earlier JTA article, that he received a doctorate from a correspondence school in Tennessee that had since been shut down by state officials after being dubbed a “diploma mill.”
According to Billings, the school, Clarksville School of Theology, was an accredited school when he applied to do graduate work. He said that he was involved in missionary field work and it was necessary that he study through a correspondence school. He said that it was after he had left the school that the institution last its accreditation and later was forced to close its doors.