Clergy form group to fight influence of 'radical right' in politics


WASHINGTON -- Charging that the "radical right" dominates and distorts the moral debate in American politics, clerics from a wide range of denominations have formed an organization to counter the influence of conservative religious groups.

The new group, called the Interfaith Alliance, was formed to "oppose the notion that only one set of convictions may be held by people of faith," the group's chairman, Herbert D. Valentine, the executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore, said at a news conference yesterday.

Dr. Valentine and other members of the alliance said conservative religious groups, particularly TV evangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, "pose a serious threat to the American principles of tolerance and liberty."

Alliance leaders said that the conservative Christian agenda is already being felt across America, with school boards banning textbooks and altering curricula and with personal attacks against political leaders, including President Clinton.

Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, dismissed the alliance's assertions that the Christian Coalition breeds intolerance, adding in an interview yesterday that "we advocate positions that mainstream American voters agree with."

He also called the alliance a tool of the Democratic Party and "window dressing for a very partisan campaign of Christian-bashing."

Jill Hanauer, executive director of the alliance, said the group has no partisan interest. Instead, she said, its goal is offer an alternative religious view to clear the way for substantive debate on many issues that now get bogged down in moral invective.

For this year, the group has set a fund-raising goal of $4 million. Dr. Valentine said the Democratic and Republican parties have been solicited but only Democrats have contributed so far among a wide range of individual donors.

The alliance has opened an headquarters here, which will serve as a clearinghouse for information that its leaders say will expose the extremism of some religious groups.

Board members of the alliance include Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, a Roman Catholic bishop from Detroit; the Rev. Leonard B. Jackson, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor in Los Angeles; Denise T. Davidoff, moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association; Rabbi David Gelfand, 0from Cleveland; and Bishop Francis P. Murphy of Baltimore.

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