NEW YORK (Nov. 24)
The controversy surrounding the mailings of a speech early this year by an Education Department official which referred to America as a “Christian nation,” continued last week with the release of a scathing report on the mailings’ subsequnent developments by a House subcommittee unit.
The report was initiated by Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D. Col.), chairperson of the House Civil Service Subcommittee, after a private citizen had sent a letter to an Education Department official protesting the distribution of and ideas expressed in a speech by Robert Billings, then an Education Department official in Washington.
The private citizen, Gerald Leib of Mountain View, California, had written a postcard to Thomas Tancredo, the Secretary of Education’s regional representative in Denver. In the postcard, Leib, a lawyer, protested Tancredo’s distribution, on Education Department stationery, of the Billings speech, sent to 328 Christian schools.
The Billings speech referred to the United States as “this Christian nation” and asked “what has happened to our Christian system of values?” The speech precipitated public outrage and the Education Department apologized for its distribution. But Leib wrote to Tancredo in Denver that “the U.S. is not now–and never has been — ‘a Christian nation’.” A similar postcard was sent to Billings who has since left the Education Department.
While Leib never received a response from Tancredo–nor a response from a later letter to Tancredo expressing concern over this “apparent governmentally-connected attempt to ‘save me’ “– Leib did get a reply from a Treasury Department official, Christopher Sundseth, the son of Carolyn Sundseth, Associate Director for Public Liaison at the White House with responsiblity for evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and conservative women.
‘LIKE IT OR NOT’ THE U.S. IS A ‘CHRISTIAN NATION’
Sundseth, in his response to Leib’s postcard, wrote, “I have seen the letter sent to Tom Tancredo at the Dept. of Education …. We are indeed, like it or not, ‘a Christian nation’…. This country was founded by Christians who were escaping the same kind of small minded tripe you espouse.”
The letter advised Leib that he is “a truly amazing, but pathetic creature” and ended with the postscript, “when you die, you will be giving account to Jesus Christ, your creator, who happens himself to be a Christian. I hope you are prepared….”
Sundseth, who was laid off from the Treasury Department just a day after the subcommittee’s report was released, had told reporters that he “and a small network of friends in government jobs” are involved in a letter writing campaign to “anti-religious zealots.”
Sundseth’s dismissal appears to be coincidental with the timing of the report’s release. He had been informed last month that his position was being terminated. Sundseth was given a letter October 5 saying his position was being cut because of a reduction in force in the Treasury Department’s international affairs office. A follow-up letter was sent on November 5. Sundseth’s last day on the job was November 15.
AIM OF THE INVESTIGATION
The report by the staff of Schroeder’s subcommittee sought to investigate how Sundseth was able to obtain a copy of Leib’s postcard and why Leib’s name and address were released. The report documents inconsistencies in the accounts of the incident by the participants, alleged mismanagement of the Denver office of the Education Department, and “obstruction of the investigation” by the Education Department.
Schroeder has written to William Bennett, the Secretary of Education, urging that Tancredo be removed from his post as head of the Denver liaison office. Tancredo’s immediate superior had been Billings in Washington. Billings had contended he did not approve distribution by Tancredo of the speech last winter. The speech had been written five years earlier.