The Maine Council of Churches has denounced Gov. Paul LePage’s comments that he would try to prevent Syrian refugees from coming to Maine, urging him on Friday to have the “moral courage to let love cast out fear.”

“The Maine Council of Churches strongly decries your pronouncement earlier this week that you would ‘adamantly oppose any attempt by the federal government to place Syrian refugees in Maine,’ ” the council wrote in a letter to the governor that its board of directors voted to send at a meeting Friday.

The council, which represents 600 churches from nine denominations, warned not to “compound the tragedy of this week’s attacks (in Paris and Beirut) by making refugees and Muslims the target of violent rhetoric in a backlash of hatred.”

The letter noted that French President Francois Hollande announced he would not prevent Syrian refugees from coming into that country despite the terrorist attacks on its capital.

“If he can have the moral courage to let love cast out fear, surely you and the people of Maine can do the same,” the letter said.

A spokeswoman for LePage did not respond to a request for comment Friday night.

The Maine Council of Churches joins other religious groups – including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals – in condemning calls for halting the resettlement of refugees as a result of the recent terrorism.

Jane Field, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, said advocating for civil discourse is central to the group’s mission. She said the group also spoke up against recent discriminatory comments made about Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin.

Upon hearing the governor’s statement Monday, she said, “the board just felt adamant that something needed to be said and be said publicly.”

Field said the statement was not just meant for the governor, but made to the people of Maine and to refugees.

“Do we think we will change his mind? We are a people of hope,” she said.

But, regardless, it can still serve the purpose of letting “those who were uneasy about the (governor’s) pronouncement” know they’re not alone, said Field.

It’s also a way to let refugees know that LePage’s comments don’t reflect the sentiments of all Mainers.

“Even if the governor has that feeling, the people of Maine do not,” she said.

According to Catholic Charities Maine, the major organization that works with refugees, there have been no refugees from Syria brought to Maine in 2015, and there was one in 2014. Nationwide, about 1,200 Syrian refugees have been placed since 2011.

LePage was among about two dozen governors, most of them Republicans, who said Monday they would not allow Syrian refugees to be admitted into their states in response to a series of attacks carried out last week by Islamic State terrorists in Paris that killed at least 129 people and wounded hundreds more. The investigation into the attacks is ongoing, including whether any of the terrorists came to Europe as a refugee, possibly from Syria, which has been ravaged by conflict since 2011.

“To bring Syrian refugees into our country without knowing who they are is to invite an attack on American soil just like the one we saw in Paris last week and in New York City on 9/11,” LePage said in a written statement, adding that he “will take every lawful measure in my power to prevent it from happening.”

Officials have said that, because states cannot dictate federal immigration policy, governors cannot legally block refugees from settling in their communities.

President Obama has said the U.S. would continue with its plan to accept up to 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. He also said Syrian refugees are the ones being harmed by terrorists and deserve compassion, not rejection.

Meanwhile, Congress passed a bill Thursday to stop Syrian and Iraqi refugees from coming into the country, and a growing number of governors have signed a letter to Obama asking him to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the country.

Although Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker initially said he did not want more Syrian refugees resettling in that state, on Friday he refused to sign the letter to the president to that effect.

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