WASHINGTON (AP) - Three conservative religious organizations have teamed up for a massive church-based voter registration drive leading to the 2004 presidential and congressional elections.
The Christian Coalition, the National Pro-Life Religious Council and the anti-abortion Catholic group Priests for Life will target millions of Christians on four ``National Christian Voter Registration Sundays'' between now and next year's election, the groups announced Monday.
``There are so many Christians sitting in the church that are not registered to vote,'' said Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition. ``It is not just a civic responsibility, but also a basic Christian responsibility to register to vote and be informed about issues that candidates stand for that could ultimately shape our lives.''
The 2 million-member coalition - long a force in Republican politics - also registered thousands of voters prior to the 2000 presidential election and distributed 70 million voter guides that identified candidates' positions on critical issues, such as abortion.
This time, Combs said, the groups will place a greater emphasis on getting registered voters to the polls. Of the approximately 50 million registered voters who describe themselves as born again, evangelical or Bible-believing Christians, Combs said only 15 million voted in the 2000 election - the vast majority for President Bush.
But a religious liberty watchdog group criticized the move as an effort to build a church-based political machine.
``This is step one down a path toward turning every church into a cog in a political machine,'' said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Lynn said the coalition's 2000 voter guides ``make every Republican look like a saint and every Democrat look like a killer in a wax museum.''
The groups say the registration drives are nonpartisan and seek to get Christians who are not politically active to play a larger role in shaping public policy.
Combs declined to provide details on how much the groups would spend on their efforts