Education Department officials scuttled a recent edition of a monthly newsletter to college students because of an article entitled "God and Politics" that, among other things, encouraged students to become "strong advocates of that which is holy and true."
The two-page "guest comment" was written by the agency's director of regional liaison, Robert Billings, who joined the department after serving as the first executive director of the Moral Majority.
A spokesman for Anne Graham, assistant secretary for legislation and public affairs, said Graham and her aides blocked distribution of the March-April issue of the newsletter, which was about to be mailed to 3,400 students, because they considered Billings' article "inappropriate."
"It discusses a political issue that would be inappropriate for the Department of Education to comment upon," a spokesman for Graham said.
Agency officials, though, did not block an article in the current issue of the newsletter that strongly criticizes the National Education Association for preparing a course about the dangers of nuclear war. An agency spokesman said the article was acceptable because it deals with "a policy issue that concerns the department, not a political one."
While the Billings' article was not sent to colleges, it was distributed inside the agency. In it, Billings accused politicians and public educators of being afraid to praise God in public.
"In our quest to be accommodating to others, we have veered from the path established by our forefathers," he wrote.
"Actions taken today by politicians, bureaucrats and courts would have enraged our leaders of yesterday, men like Jefferson, Adams, Franklin or Washington . . . . "
"Americans must make a decision," he concluded. "We can either succumb to the fickle ways of the pseudo-intellectuals and the humanist or we can become advocates of that which is holy and true . . . . If bringing God into everyday life, including politics, means that the battle lines are clearly drawn, so let it be. Battles will be fought and won, not by timid souls, but by brave patriots."
Billings also suggested that it might be appropriate for the U.S. Supreme Court to substitute the word "from" for the word "and" in its opening ceremony so that each session would begin with the clerk saying: "God save the United States FROM the Supreme Court."
Billings was unavailable for comment.
The article criticizing the NEA was written by Gary L. Bauer, deputy undersecretary for planning, budget and evaluation, who accused the NEA of being "in the hands of nuclear freezeniks." Bauer said NEA's study course on the dangers of nuclear war was "an incredibly obvious drive to bring political indoctrination into the classroom" and "turn today's elementary students into tomorrow's campus radicals."
In the same issue, Wendy H. Borcherdt, deputy undersecretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs, wrote an editorial calling for dismantling of the Education Department. Such a move, she said, "would be the best thing to happen to education in decades. It would weaken the influence of NEA and other special-interest groups which consistently put their own narrow interests ahead of the general interest of students and their families."
Willard McQuire, president of the NEA, yesterday said the teachers' union was "outraged that the administration would use public funds to issue a diatribe against the . . . NEA."
But Bauer said he would have been "remiss" if he did not comment on new curricula.
Both newsletters were compiled by Mary E. Hayter, a college student hired by the agency on a temporary basis to serve as a liaison with college student leaders. Hayter said she suggested adding "guest comments" to the newsletter several months ago to make it more interesting. She said she sent a memo to top officials, soliciting the articles. Secretary T.H. Bell wrote the first, on excellence in education.