The word to legislators from the pulpit: Stop picking on the poor.
"Enough is enough," Maryland's Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders told the General Assembly yesterday in a joint statement. They urged the legislature to "meet its moral responsibility to put the needs of the poor first."
If need be, the religious leaders said later in response to questions, the lawmakers ought to raise taxes to pay for social services.
Roman Catholic Archbishop William H. Keeler, who read the joint statement, urged the legislators to make no further cuts in "essential, basic-needs programs." He said private church and synagogue programs to help the poor were "stretched to the breaking point."
Others who joined in the appeal were Rabbi Joel Zaiman of the Baltimore Jewish Council, Bishop George Mocko of the Maryland-Delaware Synod of the Lutheran Church, the Rev. Canon John E. Kitagawa of the Episcopal Church and the Rev. Roy W. Cole III of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council.
The leaders issued a list of $105.5 million in cuts already made in state programs that serve the poor. Included were reductions in Medicaid, welfare, low-income housing and children's health and nutrition services. They said another $126.5 million in cuts is pending.
Rabbi Zaiman and others referred to a Sun Poll that found a majority of Marylanders would favor higher taxes to avoid drastic cuts in aid to the poor.
But Bishop Mocko said legislators "have not gotten the message because the poor have no voice."
"Many legislators are struggling with the issue from a moral perspective; they need encouragement," Archbishop Keeler said.
The archbishop said most Marylanders feel "a deep compassion that perhaps hasn't been expressed adequately."
Father Kitagawa said caring for the poor and disadvantaged "is at the core of who God calls us to be and how God wants us to act. It is not a matter of doing good works, but a matter of demonstrating God's abiding love and mercy."