Muslims and Buddhists join Christians in Tennessee anti-lottery effort

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Muslims and Buddhists are joining Southern Baptists and other Christians in a campaign to persuade Tennessee voters to reject a state lottery.

The issue will be decided in a Nov. 5 referendum.

"There's probably not any other issue, except maybe Sept. 11, that would pull all these groups together," said the Rev. Skip Armistead, a United Methodist pastor in Madison and a chairman of the Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance.

If approved, the referendum would remove a constitutional ban on state lotteries, letting lawmakers establish a lottery and send proceeds to college scholarships, pre-kindergarten programs and school construction.

Religious opponents say lotteries prey upon the poor and fuel gambling addiction.

The anti-lottery forces are led by the Southern Baptists and United Methodists, representing some 4,300 congregations and 1.1 million members in the state.

State Sen. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat and chief lottery proponent, said the lottery will benefit poor and middle-income Tennesseans by providing more money for education.

He believes residents will decide on their own how to vote despite their religious leaders' positions.

"There are a lot of good church people in the other 37 states with state lotteries, and I don't think their pastors or rabbis or priests think they are going to hell," Cohen said.