Voter Guides Abound in Effort to Counter Christian Coalition

Religious Americans, hoping to defuse the influence of the Christian Coalition in next week’s election, are competing with the conservative Christian lobby at their own electoral game.

The Interfaith Alliance, which claims a membership of 40,000 people from a diversity of faith communities, is distributing 5 million voter guides in state and local races across the country where candidates supported by the coalition are bidding for office.

The effort comes as a direct answer to the Christian Coalition’s plans to distribute 46 million voter guides to 120,000 churches on Sunday, two days prior to the election.

The Interfaith Alliance formed in 1994 after the Republican takeover of Congress to provide “an alternative faith-based voice” and “to make sure it was clear that [Christian Coalition founder] Pat Robertson didn’t speak for all religious people,” said Jill Hanauer, executive director of the Washington- based group.

A number of rabbis and Jewish activists are involved in the group’s leadership.

Hanauer said the alliance is attempting to counteract the Christian Coalition while simultaneously trying to restore civility to political discourse and advance an alternative agenda that helps families.

“The Christian Coalition’s agenda is still a wolves’ agenda in sheep’s clothes,” she said.

The Christian Coalition’s executive director, Ralph Reed, has “tried to put a family-friendly face on an extreme agenda that is absolutely anti-family and really threatens some of the fundamental tenets of our society, such as the separation of church and state.”

The Christian Coalition would not respond directly to the charges, but welcomed the political activity of other religious groups.

“It’s a good thing that they are energized and that they’re out there and we wish them the very best doing the same thing that we are, and that is encouraging people of faith to get involved in the political process,” said Monica Hildebrandt, spokeswoman for the coalition.

She said efforts to counteract the Christian Coalition appear to stem from a misperception that the group is partisan.

That, in fact, is the contention of the Federal Election Commission, which filed a lawsuit in July accusing the coalition of using voter guides, mailings and telephone banks in the past several election to promote illegally the election of particular Republican candidates.

Federal law prohibits non-profit organizations such as the Christian Coalition from engaging in partisan political activity.

The Christian Coalition has called the lawsuit “totally baseless” and “frivolous.”

Hanauer said the Interfaith Alliance’s voter guides comply with federal law because they “objectively” present candidates’ positions on various issues, using their own language.

The National Jewish Democratic Council, meanwhile, is distributing its own voter guides in a handful of races to help defeat candidates supported by the Christian Coalition.

Officials of NJDC, which is bound by the same laws as the Christian Coalition, maintain that its guides are non-partisan because they present candidates’ positions without editorial comment.

A guide distributed in Pennsylvania states that incumbent Republican Rep. Jon Fox has received a 100 percent 1996 Christian Coalition rating, while his challenger, Democrat Joe Hoeffel, has denounced what he called the Christian Coalition’s “intolerance.”

In addition, the organized Jewish community has distributed voter registration and education materials to help raise awareness about the Christian Coalition’s agenda and to generate political involvement. The community, through a sample sermon it distributed, has also suggested that rabbis speak out about the threat posed by the religious right.

Other religiously based organizations, including Muslim groups and an alliance of black churches, have launched their own voter registration drives that come partly as a response to the political activity of the Christian Coalition.

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