Progressive religious leaders on Friday mailed a letter asking senators to reject the “manipulation of faith” in debate over the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

Alarmed by news reports about conservative religious groups portraying Alito’s opponents as “anti-God,” the letter advises senators and other leaders in Washington that, “People of faith can, and do, hold widely diverse views on political and policy issues, including the make-up of our nation’s highest court.”

Signers include Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance; Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches; and Glen H. Stassen, a Baptist ethicist who teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary.

The letter comes amid a push by several conservative groups to send 2.3 million e-mails portraying Alito’s opponents as “a ‘Who’s Who’ of anti-religious liberties groups.”

The conservative group said a uniting theme for groups opposing Alito’s confirmation is “an agenda to purge any and all references to religion from our public lives.”

“Unable to advance their agenda through the legislature, these groups have turned to federal judges to mandate this secular purging of our society,” says a Web site. “And their strategy has worked.

“That is why in Boston this year, Christmas trees are called ‘Holiday Trees.’ In front of Target stores, you will not find Salvation Army bellringers. Most damaging of all, our schoolchildren are told they cannot post Thanksgiving or Christmas pictures in their elementary school that mention God or Jesus.”

Meanwhile, groups on the right and left ran competing radio ads for and against Alito’s confirmation.

A radio commercial paid for by the conservative Committee for Justice ran in Colorado, Wisconsin and West Virginia, states whose senators are considered pivotal votes on Judge Alito.

Ads attacking Judge Alito are running primarily in Maine and Rhode Island, liberal-leaning states represented by Republicans in the Senate.

“As you undergo this important deliberative process, we ask you to reject the manipulation of faith and the suggestion that to be considered a godly public servant one must demonstrate unqualified support for the confirmation of Judge Alito,” the letter from religious leaders says. “We encourage you instead to honor the diversity of the many voices through which God speaks and works in this great land.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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