NEA Chairman Says Evangelist Should Apologize for Arts Festival Criticism With PM-Arts-Obscenity

ATLANTA (AP) _ The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts says evangelist Pat Robertson should apologize for providing ''misinformation'' about whether federal money was used to produce an adult-oriented puppet show.

NEA Chairman John Frohnmayer said Robertson misrepresented the truth about the source of funding for the show in Atlanta last month. The evangelist blasted the show on his ''700 Club'' TV program, saying it was produced with NEA grant money.

''This show was privately funded,'' Frohnmayer said at a news conference Thursday. The head of the federal arts agency was in Atlanta to address local arts leaders and reply to Robertson's charges.

''I would call on Rev. Robertson to apologize to Congress to whom he has sent misinformation; to apologize to the people of Atlanta whom he has cast in an unfavorable light; to apologize to those who look to him for truth, rather than half-truths,'' Frohnmayer said.

''We're not going to apologize for speaking the truth and bringing the facts to light,'' Robertson spokesman Ralph Reed said later Thursday.

Robertson said in his Thursday morning broadcast that if members of Congress vote to give the NEA more money next year, ''it shows they are totally out of touch with America and with morality.''

His remarks were the latest attack on Atlanta puppeteer Jon Ludwig's play ''Zeitgeist,'' which premiered Sept. 21 at the Atlanta Arts Festival.

Robertson previously charged that the puppet show included simulated foreplay, followed by an exhibit of oral sex acts, before an audience of 800 people, including children.

Ludwig described the scene as a satirical treatment of sexual temptation, as part of an adult ''morality play.'' He denied it contained depictions of oral sex.

Robertson, who was a Republican candidate for president in 1988, said Thursday he had not seen the puppet show, but based his criticism on newspaper accounts.

The Christian Coalition, a non-profit organization headed by Robertson, has reported that the NEA gave $132,500 last year to the Center for Puppetry Arts, where Ludwig is associate artistic director.

Reed, who is executive director of the Virginia Beach, Va., coalition, said Ludwig ''would never have been offered the opportunity to put on that puppetry show if he hadn't been artistic director of one of the largest puppetry arts centers in the southeastern United States.''

While the NEA acknowledged the funding, Frohnmayer said Ludwig's performance at the arts festival was under a separate arrangement ''independent of his association with the Center for Puppetry Arts.''

The controversy began with the complaint of the Rev. John Norton, a Methodist minister from Marietta, who later withdrew his objections. While Norton said he did not object to the show's content, he said unsupervised children should not be allowed to view adult material.

Festival organizers have said they will take steps in the future to make sure children will not have access to such material.

In an indirect reference to Robertson, Norton said, ''We do not feel it is appropriate for us to be placed in the position of being connected with the greater issues others have attempted to draw us into.''