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Unitarian Universalist group joins 3-strikes law opponents

The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has joined a chorus of opposition to a pending three-strikes anticrime bill, saying it cannot stand by and allow the legislation to continue.

The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the national organization, called on state lawmakers to dissolve the conference committee that has been hashing out a final bill for approval. Morales also hand-delivered a letter of opposition to the offices of Governor Deval Patrick, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray this week, church officials said.

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Critics of the bill - led by black clergy in Boston, who say the law would cost the state millions and have a disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic communities - mounted a campaign last month to enlist statewide faith organizations and broaden opposition beyond urban Boston.

“As a people of faith, we are called today to stand on the side of love, not vengeance, not fear, not political maneuvering,’’ Morales said. “As a matter of compassion and justice, the conference committee should be dissolved and this damaging legislation killed.’’

The UUA is headquartered in Boston and has more than 1,000 congregations nationwide.

The group’s action network contacted Morales last week and urged him to get involved in the opposition.

The bill reemerged in an emotionally charged atmosphere last year after Domenic Cinelli - a parolee with a long, violent criminal history - shot and killed Woburn police Officer John B. Maguire during a robbery attempt on Christmas weekend in 2010.

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Both chambers of the House passed separate bills late last year aimed at getting tough on crime by imposing mandatory maximum sentences and limiting parole for those who commit a third offense.

The House’s bill establishes a list of more than 50 felonies - such as murder, rape, and incest - that would trigger the law. The Senate passed a broader crime bill that expands current wiretapping laws and stiffens penalties for a broad range of offenses.

Patrick, who met with black clergy leaders last week, has indicated that he would support a balanced bill that also eliminates mandatory prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

So far, opposition has come late in the process, and critics, including the local chapter of the NAACP and prison advocates, are hoping to make a last stand.

In addition to the Unitarian Universalists, the Boston TenPoint Coalition and the statewide black clergy council have publicly voiced opposition to the bill.

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.

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