- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

The leader of the nation's association of homosexual churches yesterday said the Bush administration's faith-based initiative was so likely to pass that its congregations should prepare to request funds for work in AIDS ministries.

The Rev. Troy Perry, moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), said in a letter to his churches that the headquarters will "prepare resources" so congregations can "seek funding for many community-based services."

The announcement, which said the church still will fight discrimination and "demonization" of "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender" (LGBT) people, is a significant reversal from the group's heated opposition to the original Bush plan.

Believing that "some version" of a successful House bill will pass the Senate, Mr. Perry said UFMCC projects in HIV and AIDS services, prison ministries, poverty and "at-risk LGBT youth" should step forward as worthy of bidding for federal welfare funds.

One obstacle to a Senate bill is Democratic concern that government-contracted ministries that believe homosexuality is a sin will deny either employment or "domestic partner" benefits to homosexual employees. Federal civil rights laws let them do so, but some state and local laws do not.

Despite what some homosexual leaders call possible abuse of this federal exemption, reinforced in the House bill, Mr. Perry said a new strategy is warranted to be part of the faith-based revolution.

"I have the greatest respect for my fellow activists and religious leaders who have opposed enactment" of the law, he said. But now "we must also focus upon ensuring that the federal government administers this program with neutrality, nondiscrimination, and openness to all religious groups."

The fellowship, founded in 1968 by Mr. Perry, a former Pentecostal minister, has 44,000 members in 300 churches.

John DiIulio, director of the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said the Bush plan still wants to "underline the protections to the faith-character of the organizations" that win government bids for funds based on their effectiveness.

Otherwise, he said, there is no discrimination against groups that bid to use federal welfare funds under the 1996 charitable-choice law. "All organizations have always had the ability to apply," he said.

Spokesman David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest homosexual rights organization, had no comment on Mr. Perry's letter.

"We support religious freedom," Mr. Smith said. "A Senate bill must require that [ministries] respect state and local civil rights law" on homosexual rights. "We are working with both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate."

Earlier in the faith-based initiative, conservative leaders such as the Rev. Pat Robertson said that groups such as Scientology, the Nation of Islam or the Hare Krishnas should be barred from funding.

At the time, Mr. DiIulio's office said that the eligibility of religious groups will be judged only on their financial accountability and effectiveness in solving social problems such as drug use, unemployment or family dysfunction.

Yesterday, Mr. DiIulio said that his office now has received five "100-page tomes" from five federal agencies on how their regulations may have helped or hurt application of the 1996 charitable-choice law.

"We're trying to digest it all now," Mr. DiIulio said.

One mandate of the White House office is to issue a summary report on whether federal regulations or practices have discriminated against religious groups seeking funding.

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