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Congressmen Say Message of Pro-Conservation Clerics Misleading

February 8, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two Western Republicans who want to rewrite the Endangered Species Act rebuked religious leaders critical of their proposals. ``Don’t use the pulpit to mislead people,″ the congressmen wrote.

In a letter to leaders of the Evangelical Environmental Network, Reps. Don Young of Alaska and Richard Pombo of California said the clerics used a Washington news conference last week to wrongly characterize their proposals to change the 23-year-old conservation act.

One of the ministers responded Thursday. The Rev. Stan LeQuire, the Evangelical Environmental Network’s director, said a church gives a perfect forum to rally support for strengthening wildlife protection laws.

``This is God’s world, and these are his creatures,″ LeQuire said.

Young chairs the House Resources Committee, and Pombo heads a task force on the Endangered Species Act. Their bill would relax protection of wildlife habitat on private lands and would compensate owners whose property drops 20 percent or more in value because of federally ordered protection of fish and wildlife.

``As religious people, you have a high obligation to seek the truth, even in the political arena,″ the Republicans wrote.

Americans ``expect religious leaders to abide by a higher standard″ than politicians and ``professional environmental organizations,″ they wrote. ``This is all we are asking _ keep the debate honest, and don’t use the pulpit to mislead people.″

Young and Pombo wrote: ``We believe that you will find that our legislation will in fact in the long run accomplish much more to save God’s creation than the current law,″

The religious network launched an advertising campaign last week urging that the law be strengthened, citing Bible verses and portraying the law as a modern-day Noah’s Ark.

``Powerful special interests are pressing Congress to weaken and undermine the Endangered Species Act,″ said a radio spot running in Oregon and scheduled to begin soon in 17 other states.

``That gets my dander up when they talk about using the pulpit,″ LeQuire, a Baptist minister, said from his home in Wynnewood, Pa. ``I would say to Young and Pombo this is exactly what the pulpit is for.

``We went to Washington with the Biblical message to challenge the political leaders so they would understand people of faith see this supremely as a religious matter.″

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