BANGOR (AP) – Two religious organizations that represent most congregations in Maine have come out on opposite sides of the property-tax cap proposal that goes to referendum next month.

The Maine Council of Churches, representing some 700 churches, synagogues and denominations, has urged a “no” vote on Question 1, citing its potential harm to the poor.

The Christian Civic League of Maine, made up of individuals and more than 50 evangelical congregations, favors the tax cap as a way to force the Legislature to curb spending and ease the state’s heavy tax burden.

Tom Ewell, executive director of the council, said passage of the proposal would cut essential services to the most vulnerable members of society.

“With due respect for the urgent need to address the rapid increase in property taxes,” Ewell said, “the Maine Council of Churches has concluded that the impact of the tax cap referendum will cause unacceptable hardship on Maine citizens, especially the poor and those who are dependent on state services for their safety and basic needs.

“The potential harm to many outweighs the tax relief it may provide for some,” he said.

The league’s executive director, Michael Heath, said passage of the citizen initiative to cap property taxes at 1 percent of assessed valuation would “merely force the Legislature to do what it should have been doing all along.”

Ewell and Heath cited the Bible as the basis for their organizations’ respective decisions.

“The council is calling for fair, just, humane and compassionate treatment for those in society who are most vulnerable,” Ewell said. “We believe that’s the bedrock of Jewish and Christian teaching.”

Heath suggested that God is more interested in personal love and charity through private channels than in coerced charity by way of taxation.

“The Bible says that citizens should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” Heath said. “God cannot be pleased with elderly property owners being forced to sell their homes to pay taxes.”

The council’s members include the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, whose bishop last week urged church members to be guided by moral principles when they go to the polls next month.

In a letter addressed to priests but intended to be shared with parishioners, Bishop Richared Malone wrote that while he is not telling Catholics how to vote on the question, they are called upon to place the needs of the less fortunate above one’s own selfish interest.

AP-ES-10-13-04 1428EDT

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