Jews Cheer Charitable Choice Bill’s Advance — Minus Provocative Parts

Many Jewish groups are savoring a small but sweet victory after Congress removed provocative language in a charitable aid bill.

That move has ended a deadlock on the legislation, which is expected to be brought to the Senate floor Tuesday.

Most Jewish groups support the amended bill, which would create tax breaks for charitable giving by individuals and corporations.

Jewish groups felt the original CARE Act proposal was a subtle attempt to remove barriers for religious groups seeking federal money for their social services programming.

The original proposal said government should ignore charities’ religious symbols, missions or religious-affiliated boards of directors. That would have allowed religious charities to take government money while still discriminating in hiring or while evoking religious doctrine in their charitable work, Jewish groups warned.

Many liberal groups are concerned about the Bush administration’s emphasis on charitable choice policy, fearing it blurs the line between church and state. Several charitable choice bills were signed during the Clinton administration, and the current White House has moved to change regulations to reflect the Clinton laws, aiding religious social service groups.

Many Jewish groups have spoken out against the regulations. It was fear of what could come from the CARE language that fueled the opposition.

“Given the fact that you had the administration going further to implement charitable choice, there was a concern that this bill would be seen as Congress ratifying what the administration was doing,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Jewish Committee.

The bill hasn’t yet been introduced in the House of Representatives, but Santorum has said any House version would not include the controversial provisions he removed.

The Orthodox Union was a strong supporter of the original CARE Act. Nathan Diament, director of the O.U.’s Institute for Public Affairs, said liberal groups — including some Jewish organizations — were “extorting from charitable organizations” by holding up the legislation.

“We decided it’s more important to get the money out there to the needy, and we will fight this battle another day,” he said.

Foltin concurred that larger battles on the issue of charitable choice are still to come.

“It was the opening battle for this Congress,” he said. “We will see in every social services bill in this Congress a battle like this.”

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