Bush unveils faith-based proposals


WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (JTA) – In unveiling a broad outline of his plan to increase partnerships between the federal government and faith-based organizations this week, Bush acknowledged some of the concerns about blurring the lines between church and state.

“Government, of course, cannot fund and will not fund religious activities,” he said Tuesday as he announced his proposals before sending them to Congress.

“But when people of faith provide social services we will not discriminate against them,” he said.

Bush indicated throughout the presidential campaign that he wants faith-based organizations to take a greater role in social welfare programming.

His proposals came one day after he established a new federal office to organize government assistance to faith-based organizations.

The proposals outlined publicly Tuesday appeared to be a broad blueprint.

The following proposals were announced:

* Open up federal after-school program funding to all groups, including faith-based organizations;

* Provide start-up funds for new social service programs through a “Compassionate Capital Fund”;

* Make funding available to faith-based programs on an equal basis with non-religious alternatives; and

* Provide mentoring programs for children of prison inmates.

Bush appeared at a Christian family and social service center alongside Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who had often talked about the role of faith in the public sector during his bid for the vice presidency.

Lieberman was asked by the White House to attend the event, according to an aide.

Lieberman does not endorse the president’s specific plan, but he does support its broader principles, said Lieberman’s press secretary Dan Gerstein,

Lieberman is concerned about the intermingling of church and state and possible discrimination against certain faiths.

“I am optimistic that we can strike the right balance of inclusion, and harness the best forces of faith in our public life without infringing on the First Amendment and without excluding those of different beliefs,” Lieberman said in a statement.

In his brief remarks, Bush said that after visiting synagogues and churches across the country and seeing how effective their social service programs were, he hoped his ideas would “mark a hopeful new direction for our government.”

He said that he would work to eliminate barriers to charitable works programs and encourage community and faith-based programs to provide their social services “without changing their mission.”

Many groups are still waiting to hear more specifics about the plan.

The details of Bush’s plan really matter, said Diana Aviv, vice president of public policy for United Jewish Communities, the Jewish community’s central fund-raising and social services agency.

Aviv said UJC would support more money made available to the community for after-school programs, but not if the money is taken from existing programs.

Aviv also said she was encouraged that Bush appeared mindful of some of the church-state separation and religious discrimination concerns.

Most Jewish organizations worry about violations of church-state separation, as well as the possibility that such programs could involve proselytizing and coercion.

But others, primarily Orthodox groups, want to give synagogues and Jewish organizations more of a role and a chance at more funding.

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