Calling President Clinton's press secretary hypocritical, a leading Republican lawmaker said he remains steadfast in his belief that Joe Lockhart should be fired after making derogatory remarks about Southern Baptists.

Lockhart told the Associated Press he was sorry if his words made it appear he was criticizing Southern Baptists. "It was certainly not my intention to make that case," he said.

Lockhart was responding to a December 23 letter written by two Southern Baptist congressmen, Representatives J.C. Watts and J.D. Hayworth, calling for Lockhart's resignation or dismissal.

"I can absolutely see why they're upset," Lockhart added in comments to The Washington Post. "It was just poorly phrased. I had no specific information about what this reporter was talking about, so I had no reason to allege that the group perpetuates ancient religious hatred. It was definitely not my intention to single out the Southern Baptists, or any group."

Watts, who chairs the House Republican Conference and is an ordained Southern Baptist minister, said the press secretary's apology is not enough. "Considering what happened at Wedgwood Baptist Church and Columbine High School, these statements seem to be a part of a political effort to create a climate of political correctness," he told Baptist Press December 27.

Watts and Hayworth said they took offense at Lockhart's suggestion during a White House press briefing that Southern Baptists' efforts to minister to Muslim and Hindu groups "perpetuate religious hatred."

Rep. Zach Wamp, a Tennessee Republican and Southern Baptist church member, told Baptist Press he would not rule out a resolution calling for Lockhart's ouster when Congress reconvenes.

The response from political leaders came following remarks issued by Southern Baptist leaders on December 23 condemning Lockhart's statements.

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