WASHINGTON (RNS)--Religious conservatives--including leading evangelicals, Catholic priests, and an Orthodox rabbi--gathered in Washington April 17 to issue a statement on the environment, saying humans should take priority over nature and that the environmental movement embraces "faulty science" and "strident street theater."

Led by talk-show host and Focus on the Family president James Dobson, an array of conservatives gathered to launch the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship and chide the environmental movement for being too radical.

The religious leaders signed what they called the "Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship" and urged the passage of specific legislation they say will aid the environment.

This is the first major statement politically conservative evangelicals have made on the environment. More liberal Protestants have advocated environmental protection for years. Liberal Jewish groups also advocate environmental protection.

As part of the declaration, the leaders questioned what they termed doomsday statistics about global warming, booming population growth, and a need for reduction in the use of fossil fuels. The signers said the mainline Protestant National Council of Churches wants to use the global warming issue as a "litmus test" for religious faith.

"The exaggerated attention given to global warming and other unproven theories also diverts money, attention and scientific research away from problems that are critical in the United States and developing world," the group said in a statement.

The group also took aim at the environmental lobby, saying environmentalists base their platforms on "faulty science and economics, strident street theater, and demands for immediate, drastic action on problems that are often hypothetical or overstated."

Signers of the declaration included Dobson; the Rev. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission; the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Liberty University; Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a conservative Orthodox Jewish activist; Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus of the magazine First Things; and Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest who is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

Brent Blackwelder, president of the Friends of the Earth U.S.A., disputed those claims and said the environmental movement's positions are based on sound science. He suggested that evangelicals look to the Bible for God's commandments to take care of the earth.

"There's very clear evidence in the Old Testament that people were to be watching out for their neighbors and creation, and it sounds to me that this group seems to be acting on behalf on the corporate polluters in issuing a diatribe against the environmental movement, whereas the environmental movement has wanted to be stewards of creation and not wanting to poison our fellow human beings," Blackwelder said.

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