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U.S. Jews dismayed after faith-based leader resigns

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 (JTA) — Even though they are disappointed by President Bush’s plan to increase religious organizations’ role in providing social services, many Jewish groups regret that the man pegged to implement the plan has announced his resignation.

John DiIulio Jr., director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, resigned last Friday, just a day after the White House released a report on the barriers faced by religious groups when they try to get federal funding for social service programs.

In office for just seven months, DiIulio will leave as soon as a transition team can be put into place, the White House said.

In an interview with Cox Newspapers, DiIulio said he is leaving because he has accomplished the goals he set out seven months ago, when Bush asked him to run the new office. But the former University of Pennsylvania professor had been consistently under fire as he explained the administration’s plan to open government social service programs to religious groups.

DiIulio made no secret of his distaste for Washington bureaucracy.

“I hate the nonsense that goes on here,” he said.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said he was saddened by DiIulio’s departure.

“While we continue to have fundamental disagreements with the administration’s approach to charitable choice funding, we have found Professor DiIulio to always be inclusive, considerate and respectful of others’ views,” he said.

“He was nothing but a class act,” added Reva Price, Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, praised DiIulio’s grasp of the issue.

“The smartest thing President Bush did in support of his ‘faith-based initiative’ was bringing in John DiIulio to run it,” he said.

DiIulio’s resignation marks a crossroads for the president, Saperstein said.

“In filling this position, the president must decide if he wants to forge a consensus around aspects of his plan which can unite Americans — such as helping nonprofit organizations, including religiously affiliated organizations, better serving those in need — or if he wants to push ahead with those aspects of the plan such as direct government funding for churches and synagogues which will divide Americans along religious lines,” Saperstein said.

DiIulio’s resignation came a day after the White House released a report detailing 15 barriers that faith- based groups face when trying to get federal funding. The report echoes Orthodox Jewish groups’ claim that religious organizations are unfairly treated under current law and should be given better chances to compete for funding.

Orthodox groups are among the few in the Jewish community that support Bush’s effort to give religiously- based organizations a larger role in providing social services. Most Jewish groups are concerned that an expanded partnership between the government and faith-based institutions could infringe on religious liberties and imply toleration of employment discrimination.

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