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Lobbyist takes Bible to Boise

Sat., Feb. 24, 2007, midnight

BOISE – Those seeking insight on how Fish and Game officials should oversee Idaho’s burgeoning wolf population often look to a management plan approved by the 2002 Legislature.

Bryan Fischer relies on an older document: Leviticus, in the Bible’s Old Testament.

In e-mails from Fischer’s Idaho Values Alliance organization, the conservative Christian lobbyist quotes passages that indicate “removing savage beasts from the land” is a reward bestowed upon an obedient people.

“You take a Judeo-Christian world view, and you expand it far enough, eventually it’s going to intersect with policy,” he said.

Fischer is among a fervent corps of religious-minded lobbyists in statehouses across America extending their work beyond traditional “values issues,” such as abortion or gay marriage. They’re trying to sway lawmakers on a broad front: natural resources, global warming, even tax policy.

Fischer says religion guides his politics; critics say it’s the other way around.

Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in Washington, D.C., said Fischer is among those taking their cues from Christian activists, such as Ralph Reed, who in the early 1990s attempted to shape politics with neo-conservative ideals.

“The Bible does have an enormous capacity to be interpreted in a variety of different ways,” he said. “If you’ve got a question about science or even math, they’ll give you an answer.”

Fischer, 55, is a Stanford University-educated son of a conservative Baptist preacher who became a school teacher. Fischer spent a quarter-century as pastor of Boise-area churches, and in 2004 he founded the Keep the Commandments Coalition, an unsuccessful fight to keep a biblical monument in a Boise city park.

In 2005, he was forced out as the pastor of the Community Church of the Valley – “It was the difference of opinion over leadership,” he says, declining to elaborate – before starting the Idaho Values Alliance that November.

As one of more than 300 green-name-tagged lobbyists who work the Idaho Capitol, he’s become a fixture at hearings on conservative issues, including a proposal to require parental consent for underage girls seeking abortions and last year’s constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages and civil unions, which Idaho voters passed overwhelmingly.

Now, he’s set his sights on a broader agenda.

“Judeo-Christian tradition does in fact offer a perspective on the presence of predatory animals,” he wrote in a January missive, quoting Moses. “He says, ‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will remove savage beasts from the land.’ “

When former Vice President Al Gore came to Boise to discuss global warming, Fischer weighed in: Gore’s “radical environmental policies will cause undue hardship for the poor and should be opposed by all who value the emphasis in the Judeo-Christian tradition on compassion for the neediest among us.”

Fischer says biblical teachings even offer a perspective on tax policy. When the House this month debated Gov. Butch Otter’s plan to boost an income tax credit for the state’s poorest residents while eliminating it for families earning more than $50,300 annually, the former minister sent an e-mail complaining it was a bad idea because it redistributed wealth by granting relief to some while taking it from others.

Some argue that Fischer runs the risk of alienating Idaho’s Christian voters who may interpret Jesus’ teachings differently.

Rep. Mark Snodgrass, R-Meridian, for instance, said he backed Otter’s plan because he thought it puts more money where his faith tells him it belongs: with the people who have the least.

Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, the only openly gay lawmaker in the Idaho Legislature, said she’s felt personally targeted by legislation backed by Fischer, including the 2006 gay-marriage ban.

“But I ask myself, ‘Is this really the work of an organization, or is this just one person who is weighing in on political issues?’ ” she said.

Fischer won’t say how many people receive daily e-mails from the Idaho Values Alliance, whose founders were him, his wife and his daughter. He handpicked the three-person compensation board that pays his unpublished salary. And last year, Fischer spent just $82.30 on lobbying, according to expense reports filed with the Idaho secretary of state – including $8.40 during the Aug. 25 special session on property tax relief.

As Fischer branches out, other conservative Christian lobbyists have opted to limit their work to single issues.

“I don’t want to compromise my ability to weigh in on the issue of pre-born children. That is our issue,” said David Ripley, director of Idaho Chooses Life. “Being all things to all people can get you in an awkward situation.”

Still, Ripley says Fischer is filling a hole by injecting a conservative religious perspective into more worldly terrain.

“You can bring biblical principles to the table, in areas where people will disagree – and in good faith disagree,” he said.

One group that’s gotten into a habit of disagreeing with Fischer is the liberal Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, which includes Quakers, Buddhists, Methodists and nonreligious groups. Pam Baldwin, its director, contends Fischer is driven by politics, not religion.

“These groups that tout themselves as ‘pro-life,’ they are actually ‘pro-war’ and ‘pro-death penalty’ – and only ‘pro-life’ when it’s convenient,” Baldwin said. “They’re taking their line from the more neo-conservative, anti-government position. That’s why they’re against wolves.”

Fischer contends wolves, global warming and taxes fit the Idaho Values Alliance motto: “Making Idaho the Friendliest Place in the World to Raise a Family,” a mantra he repeats before testifying before legislative committees.

“Evangelical environmentalists have emphasized the stewardship chapter, early in Genesis,” he told the Associated Press. “But there’s also a clear emphasis on man’s dominion and ability to develop resources for the benefit of the human family.”


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