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Fearing that proposed cuts in state spending will be harmful to New York's most vulnerable citizens, church leaders Sunday will urge their flocks to launch a grass-roots campaign against money-saving moves that will target the needy.

In a rare pastoral letter that will be read in the 67 Episcopal churches in his Western New York Diocese, Bishop David C. Bowman says the budget cuts proposed by Gov. Pataki are "too much, too soon, too devastating."

If they are enacted as presently proposed, they will harm the elderly, disabled, students, children, the mentally ill, the homeless and those in prison, he maintains.

On another front, an alliance of religious organizations is asking pastors and congregational leaders to read a letter prepared by New York State Interfaith Impact, an advocacy group serving as a voice in Albany for the religious community. It also opposes cuts in state programs that serve the needy.

The effort has the support of the Buffalo Area Council of Churches, Buffalo Area Metropolitan Ministries, the Church of God in Christ, the Baptist Ministers Conference and the African Methodist Ministers Alliance.

Bishop Bowman said budget cuts proposed by Pataki will lower public assistance, eliminate sick room supplies and reduce inpatient psychiatric care while increasing the cost of putting a student through college.

"As people of the Bible, as persons called to be the strong arms and compassionate heart of Jesus to our neighbor, we simply cannot remain silent and allow this to happen," he said.

Bishop Bowman stressed that the spending-cut issue "is not about Republicans and Democrats."

"It is not strictly about politics. It is about a moral crisis. It is about compassion and it is about caring for the least of God's children," he said.

Although the letter makes clear his own position, Bishop Bowman does not directly ask the 25,000 Episcopalians in Western New York to fight the cuts.

Instead he requests that they "become educated about this matter" and then write a postcard or letter to inform their state senators and assemblymen about their feelings.

Bishop Bowman also asks his flock to "pray daily that the measures" enacted by state government "will be measures pleasing to God and they they will move us toward a just and peaceful society."

The effort supported by the interfaith group has been dubbed the "Justice in the Gate Campaign," a reference to words of the Prophet Amos about doing good and avoiding evil.

The Rev. Robert L. Graham, president of the Council of Churches, said the effort aims to inform people in each congregation that "the proposed cuts will severely hurt the most vulnerable in our community" and to encourage them "to join in opposing those cuts."

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