The National Council of Churches on Monday praised the U.S. Senate for Friday’s vote declining to end a filibuster blocking renewal of the U.S.A. Patriot Act.

President Bush blasted senators in a Monday press conference for “playing politics” with the Patriot Act, a centerpiece of the administration’s war on terror.

“It is inexcusable for the United States Senate to let this Patriot Act expire,” the president said, citing critics in Washington who criticize the administration for failing to “connect the dots” prior to 9/11.

“Well, the Patriot Act helps us connect the dots,” Bush said. “And now the United States Senate is going to let this bill expire. Not the Senate–a minority of senators. And I want senators from New York or Los Angeles or Las Vegas to go home and explain why these cities are safer. It is inexcusable to say, on the one hand, connect the dots and not give us a chance to do so.”

But religious leaders on Monday said the Senate was wise to be cautious about the measure.

“The Patriot Act was hastily enacted after 9/11 in an attempt to protect U.S. citizens from further terrorist violence,” Antonios Kireopoulos, associate general secretary of the NCC for International Affairs and Peace, said in a press release. “It’s now time to ask ourselves what this law has meant with respect to our most basic freedoms.”

The National Council of Churches is an organization of 35 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African-American and peace communions representing 45 million Christians in 100,000 local congregations in the United States. Last month its General Assembly passed a resolution outlining threats to religious liberties in “a post 9/11 America.”

The resolution expressed concern that the Patriot Act, which expands government power to investigate suspected terrorists, “has the potential for vastly eroding” religious and liberties with provisions that are “in seeming conflict with the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

“We’re not calling upon the government to abandon its responsibility to defend its citizens,” said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the NCC. “At the same time, there is no more eloquent rebuke to our terrorist enemies than to show we will never back away from the religious and civil liberties they seem to hate so much.”

In addition to defending the Patriot Act, the president criticized disclosure that he authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails of people within the United States without obtaining warrants from courts.

“My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war,” he said. “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.

“You’ve got to understand–and I hope the American people understand–there is still an enemy that would like to strike the United States of America, and they’re very dangerous. And the discussion about how we try to find them will enable them to adjust. Now, I can understand you asking these questions and if I were you, I’d be asking me these questions, too. But it is a shameful act by somebody who has got secrets of the United States government and feels like they need to disclose them publicly.”

In a Sunday address to the nation, President Bush admitted the work in Iraq has been more difficult than expected but insisted that America isn’t losing the war. “Not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq,” he said.

Christian peacemakers with colleagues being held by abductors in Iraq challenged the president’s claim, saying they viewed a situation far different from the one described by Bush. Members of Christian Peacemaker Teams said in a statement they have seen an ongoing loss of faith and trust in the U.S. government by both Iraqis and Americans, an absence of security, lack of basic services and limited reconstruction.

Those factors, along with bombings, kidnapping and torture, they said, are contributing ot growing alienation of Iraqi people and of the Muslim world. The group is calling on the U.S. to withdraw all U.S. troops and military bases promptly provide sufficient funds to the Iraqi people to rebuild basic infrastructure.

But in his address to the nation, Bush said a premature pullout from Iraq would send the message that America cannot be trusted to keep its word, undermine morale of troops, cause “the tyrants in the Middle East to laugh at our lack of resolve” and “would hand Iraq over to enemies.”

“To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor, and I will not allow it,” he said.

Bush also directed remarks to Americans who did not support his decision to send troops to Iraq. “I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt,” he said. “Yet now there are only two options before our country–victory or defeat. And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party, because the security of our people is in the balance. I don’t expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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