AUGUSTA (AP) – The Christian Civic League of Maine relieved Executive Director Michael Heath of his duties for one month Saturday for sending an e-mail newsletter that sought information about Maine lawmakers who might be homosexual.

The league’s board of directors said that by calling for personal information about the sexual orientation of public officials, Heath had “crossed a line of ethical behavior into a realm of sinful gossip.”

“The board believes that in the heat of a difficult political battle, Mike responded to pressure in a manner unbecoming to our Lord’s call to love our enemies and forgive those who offend us,” the board said in a statement.

In his March 5 Web newsletter, Heath asked supporters for “tips, rumors, speculation and facts” about the sexual orientation of legislators and other political leaders, so the league could post the information on its Internet site.

The newsletter unleashed a firestorm of criticism from Gov. John Baldacci and members of the Legislature. Heath, who has served as the league’s spokesman for more than a decade, issued a public apology and accepted responsibility for his actions.

In its statement announcing that the one-month administrative leave, the board said Heath has served the organization with distinction.

“The current episode is entirely out of line with the reputation of the man and the organization and has done disservice to our cause to uphold Christian values and morality,” the board said.

The board said the purpose of the leave is for Heath to reflect on what he has learned from the experience and on what changes are required to ensure that there is no repetition.

“The board is fully confident that Mike is capable of leading this organization with integrity and is thankful for his committed service and important contributions,” the statement read.

The board decided not to reveal whether Heath would be paid during the monthlong leave, said the Rev. Dallas Henry, league president.

During Heath’s absence, his duties will be carried out by Tim Russell, who was hired in January as the league’s lobbyist, and by the office staff in Augusta, Henry said.

Heath was present at the meeting, which Henry characterized as frank and honest.

“It was like a family meeting. We’re all very close,” Henry said. “Mike, being a man of high moral character, participated in our discussion and was agreeable. We all left as friends.”

AP-ES-03-13-04 2053EST

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