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NCC suggests Gonzales cast interfaith net on religious freedom plan

New York City, February 22, 2007   The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA welcomed a new U.S. government initiative on religious discrimination but expressed concern at its narrow, single denominational introduction.

"We are pleased to see the Bush administration focus renewed interest on religious freedom," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, NCC's general secretary, in a statement issued today.  Religious liberty is "a topic that has found deep and continuing concern within the National Council of Churches since its founding more than 50 years ago," he said.

"We do find it unsettling," says Edgar's statement, "that only a single denomination, representing a fraction of the rich diversity of religious life of America, was selected to receive the attorney general's personal presentation.  It would seem more appropriate had he made such an appearance before an ecumenical or interfaith gathering, symbolically underlining the vision of a nation in which the law plays no favorites but sees all faiths as equal before the Constitution."

Attorney General Gonzales traveled to Nashville on Tuesday (Feb. 20) to unveil the "First Freedom Project," an initiative of the Department of Justice, to the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, a Christian denomination with fewer than 20 million members.

"The NCC, encompassing 45 million Protestant, Orthodox, and African-American Christians in 35 faith groups across America," said Edgar's statement, "is actively involved in multiple efforts to assure religious freedom and human rights in all parts of our society."

To assist the attorney general in broadening his new initiative, Edgar has sent an invitation to Mr. Gonzales to present his project to next month's regularly scheduled meeting in Washington of the NCC's Committee on Religious Liberty.  In addition to NCC's constituent Christian denominations, several evangelical, Roman Catholic and Jewish faith communities are represented on the committee.  Edgar's letter also recommended the attorney general present the new program to Muslim groups.

"No group enjoys religious freedom if any group is denied equal treatment under the law or the appearance of such equality," said Edgar's statement.  "In that spirit of inclusiveness, the attorney general should make extraordinary efforts to demonstrate the broad intention of this federal initiative."

NCC News contact:  Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, .

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