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INTERFAITH ALLIANCE VS. CHRISTIAN COALITION

As a child of the '50s, the Rev. Herbert Valentine said, he learned about intolerance watching the McCarthy hearings on television.

With the emergence of the Christian Coalition as a political force among religious conservatives, Valentine said he experienced an eerie feeling of deja vu."Similar kinds of actions, activities and absolutes during the McCarthy era were coming forth again, but this time in religious garb," said Valentine, the executive presbyter for the Baltimore Presbytery. "The moderate Christian voices were not being heard in the press."

In response, Valentine formed a religious coalition called the Interfaith Alliance last year. The group - made up of Protestants, Catholics and several Jewish organizations - is one of several groups created recently to provide a forum for voices other than those of the Christian Coalition.

Interfaith Alliance is growing throughout the country, representing more than 14,000 members and increasing its membership by 2,000 per month, Valentine said. The group, which reports that it has netted more than $1 million in donations, boasts chapters in 11 states.

The group's mission, Valentine said, is to counter what he calls the "divisive and intimidating" political agenda of the Christian Coalition. For example, his group opposes a constitutional amendment regarding school prayer and other aspects of the coalition's 10-point congressional agenda, called the "Contract With the American Family."

Christian Coalition members are quick to defend their group, saying the organization is neither divisive nor intolerant.

"We're a body of religious conservative voters involved in a political process, sponsoring legis-la-tion that would be more friendly to the family," said Christian Coalition spokesman Mike Russell.

"The Interfaith Alliance is trying to impose a cruel double standard: that it's OK for Christian liberals to be involved in politics, but not Christian conservatives. They are basically saying religious conservatives are a threat to democracy, and I think that's a ludicrous argument."