WASHINGTON, March 6 (RNS)--Criticizing the 1990 census for leaving out anestimated 8 million people in the United States, religious and civilrights leaders Monday joined the director of the U.S. Census Bureau to campaign for a more inclusive census for the year 2000.

"We in the religious community have a long track record of standingup for a good census that really counts all the people with all thebenefits the knowledge thereof provides," said Rabbi David Saperstein,director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

"Only when (the census) is accurate can we truly assess how allAmericans are doing, how every community is faring, and what we need todo to ensure equality and justice for all. When it is not accurate...we put blinders on our ability to see the needs of others. Not only dowe cease to be our brother and sister's keeper, we deny their veryexistence," Saperstein said.

The census, constitutionally required to be taken once a decade,determines the division of the 435 seats in the House of Representativesand provides a formula for the distribution of federal money under ahost of programs. The 1990 census has been widely criticized for missingsome 8 million people, especially those living in the nation's innercities.

Efforts to introduce new methods of counting rather than theself-reporting and door-to-door canvassing currently in use have beenrejected by Congress.

Saperstein was joined by religious leaders from faith groups asvaried as the American Muslim Foundation and the National Conference ofCatholic Bishops, who called on their colleagues to mobilizecongregations to participate in the upcoming census.

"An inaccurate census is a serious threat," said the Rev. J.C. Hope,director of religious affairs for the NAACP. "By itself, the censuscannot guarantee political equality and social justice or economicopportunity. However, without an accurate census too many people simplydon't count. Whole communities are denied equal access to resources ofthis nation.

"We call on all our entities in the religious community and thebroader civil rights community to continue educating people on the needfor an accurate census," Hope said.

Religious leaders and institutions can be particularly effective inencouraging participation in the census, said Wade Henderson, executivedirector of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

"Our friends in the religious community have an ability to reach thepublic in a way that no other group can possibly do," said Henderson."They have the trust of many people that we represent, and those peopleare willing to listen to the counsel of these religious leaders and theinstitutions they represent because they know these groups have a trackrecord, a history, of delivering on behalf of their constituency.

"And when they add their voices to the voices of the Census Bureauand the voices of civil rights leaders, we think that message will bereinforced in a positive way and we'll get the benefit of having everyperson in our society counted," Henderson said.

The Census Bureau has mailed hundreds of information packets toreligious leaders nationwide encouraging them to educate theircongregations about the importance of an accurate census, said KennethPrewitt, bureau director.

He said faith groups are better able than many others to reachgroups historically underrepresented in census counts, particularlythose who fear information disclosed on a census form will be releasedto other government agencies.

"There is a pocket of the population for which the fear ofconfidentiality operates as a deterrent, and that clearly ispredominantly among the undocumented, and is predominantly among peopleliving in housing conditions which they know to violate either localzoning rules or sometimes landlord prerogatives," said Prewitt. "And itis extremely important that the church, which is in close contact withthose populations, carry the message of confidentiality."