- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

President Bush yesterday urged the Senate to pass legislation that would end newly documented "government bias" against community and faith-based groups seeking aid to run social programs.
"It's a bias that exists even when constitutional concerns about church and state have been addressed," Mr. Bush said yesterday in his weekly radio address, broadcast from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
The House has passed the president's faith-based and community initiative, which would funnel federal money to religious charities that offer services to those in need.
But the Senate has delayed action, and the legislation is expected to undergo substantial rewriting in the Democrat-controlled chamber.
The White House has said no effort would be spared to obtain passage of the president's measure, which would make religious charities eligible for more federal grants and would expand tax deductions for charitable donations.
"I applaud the bipartisan House vote and urge the Senate to pass the legislation with the [bipartisan] leadership from Senators Joe Lieberman and Rick Santorum," Mr. Bush said. "The needs are real. The time to act is as soon as Congress returns to work after Labor Day."
The president called on Americans who agree with him to let their senators know during the congressional recess.
The initiative has been a centerpiece of Mr. Bush's "compassionate conservative" agenda. In his remarks yesterday, the president cited findings in a White House report released Thursday as evidence that the government has not been compassionate toward religious charities and community groups that need assistance in delivering social services.
Mr. Bush said the report — "Unlevel Playing Field," prepared by five federal agencies under the direction of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives — "documents" government discrimination against such private organizations.
"Government administrators restrict religious groups from even applying for funding simply because they are religious. They place artificial limits on what programs and how much funding faith-based programs can apply for," said the president.
"In some cases," he said, "they restrict civil rights these faith-based and community-based groups enjoy under federal law. This is wrong."
Mr. Bush said Wednesday will mark the fifth anniversary of a "bipartisan charitable choice" law that allows faith-based organizations to compete for some contracts to provide social services.
But up until now, Mr. Bush said, "this limited charitable choice law has been almost entirely ignored by many federal administrators.
"They've done little to help or require state and local governments to involve faith-based providers, as the law requires. I've appointed advocates in five Cabinet agencies to end this bias, and soon," he said.
The report's findings were overshadowed by news that John J. DiIulio, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and architect of the president's program, was resigning.
In his remarks yesterday, Mr. Bush offered examples of the kinds of "caring efforts" that are being made by religious charities and ignored by federal bureaucrats. The list included shelters for battered women and children, crisis/pregnancy centers, treatment for drug addiction, care for those in prison, and help for prison inmates and their families.
"A compassionate government should find ways to support their good works" and treat them as "partners" instead of "rivals," said the president.
He pointed out that his office of faith-based initiatives "is also working closely with groups to help them know their civil rights" and "know how to effectively apply for funds so their good works can be expanded."


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