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June 03, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, June 03, 2005

Interfaith group visits Congress Interfaith group visits Congress (June 03, 2005)

Lobbying for religious, but not religious right, agenda

By Jon Wiener

Judy William is not your typical faith-based political activist. But there she was on Capitol Hill last week, working congressional representatives on behalf of 18 churches and temples throughout the Peninsula.

A veteran English teacher in the Mountain View-Los Altos Adult Education school, she wasn't even a member of a congregation until joining Beth Am in Los Altos Hills four years ago. It was at a Yom Kippur study session there that she got introduced to Peninsula Interfaith Action (PIA).

William said she had little experience as an activist, and even less as the religious sort. But she said the reform Jewish concept of perfecting the world appealed to her.

"I'm sort of an old Girl Scout," she said, "trying to leave the world a better place than I found it."

William joined eight other PIA members on a trip to Washington, D.C., earlier this month as part of the New Voices campaign, sponsored by a nationwide umbrella organization known as PICO.

This was the first time PIA had been involved with national-level issues, previously sticking to lobbying at the local, and later the state, levels.

"So many of our local projects were suffering because we didn't have the money and the wherewithal from the federal level," explained William.

The PIA members met with Reps. Anna Eshoo and Tom Lantos to lobby for two new initiatives with bipartisan backing. The "Cover the Kids" initiative, originally proposed by President Bush, would reduce the steps needed for uninsured children to enroll in health plans. A Home Ownership Tax Credit program would make it cheaper for qualifying low-income buyers to purchase or renovate homes.

Made up of interfaith social action groups like PIA, PICO is faith-based but non-partisan, and counts Republicans and Democrats among its ranks. "It is sort of a counterweight to the religious right," explained William.

"What we're trying to do is go across the lines," she said. "We're pro-family too."

E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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