WASHINGTON — “Culture of life” has become one of President George W. Bush’s clichés even as he sows death and destruction here and abroad.

Bush seized on the Terri Schiavo tragedy to whip up nationwide “pro-life” hysteria, seeking to win votes for right-wing Republicans and divert attention from the war in Iraq, his scheme to privatize Social Security and other unpopular policies.

But clergy and laity have answered with calls to embrace a real “culture of life,” including bringing the troops home from Iraq, health care for all, freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state.

TrueMajority, for example, launched a “Peace Not Poverty” online campaign March 30 (www.PeaceNotPoverty.org). It is inspired by the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King was killed April 4, 1968, while supporting sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tenn.

TrueMajority President Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame, said hundreds of thousands would participate in the online drafting of a “declaration for peace and justice and against the war.”

“The goal is to articulate the progressive vision we all share for America,” Cohen said, “and to launch a determined, ongoing nationwide effort to end the war and realize [King’s] positive dream.”

The declaration will be read aloud April 4 during a televised interfaith service titled “Beyond Iraq” at New York City’s Riverside Church, where King delivered his 1967 speech against the Vietnam War.

A nationwide “Peace Not Poverty” bus tour to connect people of conscience across America will depart after the service.

“No matter what your faith or belief system,” Cohen said, “if you feel our nation’s moral mission is to promote peace, justice and equality, this is your movement.”

Cohen’s appeal echoed the Interfaith Alliance, which convened a telephone news briefing March 25 to condemn the right wing’s exploitation of Terri Schiavo and her family.

The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, Interfaith Alliance president, urged people “to challenge forcefully politicians who will manipulate even personal pain to achieve political gain.”

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the briefing, “The agenda of the Religious Right is to control your life from the moment of conception to the moment of death and they will even determine when you are allowed to die. The only thing that blocks their theocratic goals is an objective, neutral federal judiciary.”

Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of Kol Tikvah Congregation of Woodland Hills, Calif., said, “If we really cared about defending human life, we would immediately fund a national health insurance program to protect the 18,000 Americans who die every year for lack of health care.”

The Rev. Forrest Church, a Unitarian pastor from New York, blasted Congress for cutting the budget for food stamps and other anti-poverty programs and then taking time off “to promote a federal law designed to address the plight of a single human being.” He charged that it turns “President Bush’s ‘culture of life’ into a parody.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler, host of NPR’s “Interfaith Voices,” asked, “Would this same Congress return for a special session to appropriate the billions of dollars that we’ve already promised to AIDS victims to ensure that they live? … Would they devote a special session to the lives lost in Iraq?”