- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

Hundreds of clergy of all races and religions gathered yesterday at the Library of Congress in support of President Bushs proposed faith-based initiative that would give federal money for religious organizations to provide charity.
The summit was the religious equivalent of a march on the capital, as all of the participants praised the merits of the presidents plan and strategized on how to get legislation in shape.
"This is a movement that will transform American culture," asserted the Rev. Bob Schenk, president of the D.C.-based National Clergy Council. "It is a revolutionary idea, and we can deal with the inevitable controversies."
He spoke at the back of a room filled with tables of clergymen and women who dined on catered chicken calvados and watched the proceedings, which were beamed via satellite to a reported 50 cities nationwide. The broadcast was sponsored by The Washington Times Foundation and the American Family Coalition.
The gathered religious leaders heard speeches from a Republican congressional contingent that included Senate Conference Chairman Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and House Conference Chairman Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma.
The summits central message was repeated throughout the day: Churches and other religious organizations are delivering many of the same social services now provided by secular, taxpayer-funded groups. Thus, why not allocate some of that money so that the religious sector can enhance services?
"Years ago, we didnt think such a proposition was possible," Mr. Santorum said. "The desire to learn more about the prospect of this idea was the catalyst for the summit. We now have the attention of America."
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said that current funding policies unfairly preclude churches from providing social services, and that "it is wrong for government to discriminate against agencies that can provide services simply because they are of faith."
Most polls have found an overwhelming majority of Americans favor providing federal money for faith-based charities. Most recently, a poll by the Pew Research Center showed 75 percent approve of such a proposal.
Mr. Bush, who says he is a born-again Christian, advocated the idea as one of the key tenets of his presidential campaign. Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would allow religious groups to pursue money earmarked for such things as care for the homeless, child care and food for the needy.
Critics of Mr. Bushs plan charge that the proposal is unconstitutional and violates the separation of church and state. A representative from the nonprofit Americans United for the Separation of Church and State handed out fliers at yesterdays event, charging that the organizers had invited no opponents of the proposal to the summit.
"I think this is a bipartisan meeting," countered Christine Iverson, an aide to Mr. Watts. "If you ask many of these people here, you will find they are Democrats."
Several congressional Democrats were invited to the meeting but declined to come, another aide said.
Bishop Henry Fernandez with the Faith Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said that the argument that Mr. Bushs proposal would allow for excessive government meddling in religious affairs was weak.
"We are not asking the government to fund a message, we are asking to fund a mission," Bishop Fernandez said. "We can provide for someone, help someone, without telling them which God to pray to."
The framework for the faith-based initiative is laid out in the legislation, called the "Community Solutions Act," but the details have yet to be determined. The specific details of the legislation also concerns critics. For example, who will oversee the money once it is allocated? How much is to be doled out and in accordance with what guideline?
When Glenn Davis started his Carpenters Way home for children outside of Columbus, Ga., he had the luxury of a Major League Baseball players considerable salary. At the summit yesterday, the former slugger for the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles carried a list of questions he had for the proposition of tax money for church-delivered community services.
"I think there are groups who can use the money and those who dont need to," said Mr. Davis, who retired in 1997. "My concern is accountability and how you define faith-based. I just want to make sure people who get the money use it for the right thing."
Yet those questions do not trouble the plans supporters. "The government and the recipients should be partners," said Paul McCulley, director of the Clergy Community Assistance Network, a Cincinnati-based group that coordinates assistance programs among several regional churches. "There are provisions in these plans for good stewardship and I think the government has shown it can help in these things. We can deliver these services because we are already."


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