(RNS) White House spokesman Joe Lockhart has apologized for his comments linking the Southern Baptist Convention to organizations that "perpetuate ancient religious hatred."

Responding to a letter from two Republican congressmen declaring President Clinton should demand Lockhart's resignation, the spokesman said he was sorry if his words made it appear he was criticizing Southern Baptists.

"It was certainly not my intention to make that case," Lockhart said, the Associated Press reported.

Lockhart said he was attempting to focus on the president's long-held support of religious tolerance and "it was never my intention to single anyone out" when he responded to a question about the alleged perpetuating of religious hatred.

The Dec. 23 letter from Reps. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., and J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., said Lockhart's comments were "blatant bigotry against a particular religious group."

Southern Baptist leaders also voiced strong opposition to Lockhart's remarks.

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