House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) had some surprising advice recently for parents of children looking for a good college in Texas: Don't consider Texas A&M or Baylor.
DeLay was asked for his thoughts about Texas colleges after he addressed a "Worldview Weekend" conference at the First Baptist Church of Pearland April 12. A man in the audience expressed his dismay with the fact that Baylor won't teach creationism and asked, "Is there anything we can do about it, beside praying?"
"Well, there's a lot you can do, actually," replied DeLay. "You know, Texas A&M used to be a conservative university. It's lost all of its conservatism and it's renounced its traditions. It's really sad. My daughter went there, you know; she had horrible experiences with co-ed dorms and guys who spent the weekends in the rooms with girls, and all this kind of stuff went on there. It's just unbelievable."
Continued DeLay, "You can do something about Texas universities. You call your state representative, your state senator and say, 'I want that to change. I don't like what I see. I want it changed. And I want things changed. And I want you to do something about it.' They can. Texas A&M is a state university. The University of Texas is a state university. It's all run by the Coordinating Board, or whatever they call it, and they can change things. They can throw the P.C. [political correctness] out and bring God in..... As far as the immediate I mean, that will take time, to change the university but the immediate is, don't send your kids to Baylor. And don't send your kids to A&M. There are still some Christian schools out there good, solid schools. Now, they may be little, they may not be as prestigious as Stanford, but your kids will get a good, solid, godly education."
DeLay's comments were recorded by a conference attendee. After obtaining the tape, Americans United alerted the Houston Chronicle, which ran a story about the remarks on April 18. Reaction was swift and strong.
DeLay, facing the wrath of thousands of A&M and Baylor graduates, tried to shift the focus away from his comments. At first, DeLay spokesman Jonathan Gralle attacked the person who "underhandedly brought a tape recorder into First Baptist Church looking for trouble" and called Americans United "further to the left than Hillary Clinton." When those ad hominem attacks failed, DeLay asserted that his comments had been taken out of context.
"My response to a concerned parent has created a misunderstanding," DeLay said in a statement. "I was giving advice for the specific type of education they were seeking for their child. Let me make it Texas clear: I've been a longtime supporter of Baylor and Texas A&M. My daughter went to A&M, and in Congress I've worked hard to help fund these two prestigious universities. I apologize for any misunderstandings my comments may have caused."
As the controversy escalated, the Chronicle reported that DeLay was kicked out of Baylor in 1967. The university, a private, Baptist-run facility, apparently expelled DeLay for a series of infractions, including spray-painting buildings green at rival Texas A&M and dancing (which at that time was not permitted at Baylor).
DeLay's efforts to explain away the comments did not persuade many. Under a headline titled "FANATIC: DeLay proves he's far outside conservative mainstream," the Chronicle editorialized, "DeLay's distaste for Baylor and Texas A&M is part and parcel of his rejection of distinguished scholarship and scientific inquiry and his fanatical desire to transform American government into a theocracy. House Republicans who value reason should reconsider their bizarre commitment to have DeLay replace retiring Rep. Dick Armey as Republican leader in the House."
The newspaper went on to chastise DeLay and his staff for their view "that a powerful congressman should be exempt from public scrutiny." Queried the newspaper, "Does DeLay think he can give speeches to hundreds of constituents in quasi-public settings in secret?"
Al Hunt, a Wall Street Journal columnist and panelist on CNN's "Capital Gang," also chided DeLay. Wrapping up the April 20 show, Hunt made note of DeLay's remarks and said, "Now, most of your Capital Gang was at Texas A&M yesterday, and it's hardly a hot bed of promiscuity. It's a school where most parents would love to send their kids. Baylor is a Southern Baptist college. Maybe next week 'Elmer Gantry' DeLay will list acceptable schools."
DeLay's daughter, Danielle Ferro, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1995, may not have been as traumatized by the party atmosphere at the school as the congressman let on. In September of 2000, Roll Call newspaper in Washington reported that when DeLay flew 30 lobbyists to a plush Las Vegas hotel for a weekend of partying, Ferro, who was then managing DeLay's reelection campaign, hosted a late-night get-together in one room that had its own hot tub. Ferro later told a friend that one of the lobbyists had poured champagne on her while she was in the hot tub.
On at least one occasion DeLay joked about his daughter's active social life while at A&M. The College Station Eagle reported that in 1995 DeLay delivered the commencement address at A&M and joked with the graduates about how popular his daughter was at a local bar.
To crowd laughter, DeLay reported that Ferro took him to the Dixie Chicken, a popular campus watering hole, and remarked, "I was a little surprised that Danni knew everybody there and everybody there knew her and called her by her first name."
Days after the story hit the Texas newspapers, The Washington Post ran a separate item about DeLay's comments insisting that "only Christianity" provides an appropriate moral and ethical worldview. (See "Weekend Warriors," page 6.)
Officials at Worldview Weekend were furious over Americans United's release of the tape and promptly went on the attack. Brannon Howse, whose group runs the seminars, published an opinion piece in the Chronicle in which he accused Americans United of being "notorious on the Hill for its anti-religious bigotry, intolerance and demagoguery."
In a separate article posted on Worldview Weekend's website (www.worldviewweekend.com), Howse wrote, "Delay's [sic] comments were also recorded by a representative of American's [sic] United for the [sic] Separation of Church and State (AU). The comments were then shopped around the country by (AU) and finally picked up by The Houston Chronicle."
Howse called Americans United "far outside the mainstream" and accused the organization of being a front for the Democratic Party. He also attacked the Chronicle, saying of one of its editors "This guy is always attacking Mr. DeLahy [sic] is [sic] on the editorial committee."
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn called Howse's response an attempt to divert attention away from DeLay's extreme comments. He noted that AU did not "shop" DeLay's comments around to the media. Rather, the organization contacted the Chronicle, since the event took place at a Houston suburb and the paper was most likely to be interested. Lynn also noted that AU is non-partisan and has no ties to any political party.
In the Chronicle op-ed, Howse accused Americans United of sending "someone to surreptitiously to register as a participant at the church event for the purpose of finding a statement that could be publicized and attacked." Lynn said this is also untrue.
In fact, the conference was open to the public and was advertised in special mailings, magazine advertisements and over the Internet. It was unnecessary to do anything "surreptitious" to attend. Nothing in the conference materials said that recording was not permitted, and officials at the event did not tell participants not to tape speakers. In fact, Worldview Weekend tapes sessions itself for later sale. Furthermore, Lynn said, AU sent a representative to the event to learn about the theocratic goals of Worldview Weekend and would have done so even if DeLay had not been there.
Lynn said Howse's attempt to deflect attention away from DeLay's comments will not work. Far from being taken out of context, the DeLay remarks about Texas A&M and Baylor were given to the Chronicle in their entirety and speak for themselves, Lynn asserted.
The AU director also said that the seminar proves that it is Worldview Weekend, not Americans United, that is pursuing an extreme agenda.
"It's ironic for Howse to accuse AU of being extreme," noted Lynn. "Unlike Worldview Weekend, AU is not selling books advocating the execution of gay people, labeling certain religions 'false' or pushing for a theocracy in America."
Concluded Lynn, "I leave it to the American people to determine who is the real extremist here."
Lynn defended AU's actions, noting that public officials like DeLay should expect scrutiny of all of their political comments.
"Officials who work closely with the Religious Right often have one message for general consumption and another one for the 'true believers,'" Lynn said. "Behind closed doors they are apt to reveal their true theocratic agenda. Americans United has a right and indeed an obligation to get this information before the public."