- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2001

A leading House Democrat said past Republican opposition to federal contracts with Minister Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam was reason to oppose President Bush's proposal to direct federal money to faith-based groups.

"The Republican Party went absolutely berserk, especially in the House of Representatives, and made certain that these programs were eliminated," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The Clinton administration had awarded the Nation of Islam at least $15 million in contracts to police federally funded public housing projects in the District of Columbia and eight other cities.

Opposition to the contracts, issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1994 to 1997, was led by Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, citing anti-Semitic and anti-white rhetoric by Mr. Farrakhan and prior criminal records of Nation of Islam guards.

"By every criteria, they did a fantastic job in removing crime from these public housings," Mr. Rangel said. "Let Minister Farrakhan be the testing point of the separation of free public funds and religion, and I'll tell you, the Republicans would wipe out the program."

Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference, countered by supporting Mr. Bush's faith-based initiative, saying he was not in Congress at the time and "not part of what Republicans did, if that in fact is what they did."

Also appearing on "Meet the Press," Mr. Watts said: "I want results. President Bush wants results. And if faith-based organizations can help us get people from welfare to work, get kids out of gangs, get people off drugs and alcohol, get families back together, get rid of crime and drugs in the neighborhood, they should be able to play a role, … and that's what President Bush is saying."

Mr. Rangel, senior Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said he would oppose the president's proposal to allow all taxpayers to have a charitable tax deduction for donations to faith-based programs helping the needy.

"If you start manipulating whether synagogues and mosques and churches should be getting public funds, not only are you skirting on constitutional protections of separation of church and state, but you also are getting involved in different communities as to which religion and which sex was given preferential treatment," the New York Democrat said.

"You can pick up a vote here and there, but the president and the Republicans are walking on very thin ice by trying to give out patronage to the religious sector."

Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, also hammered Mr. Bush's faith-based initiative on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"The big problem is it is literally impossible to separate your religious activities from your secular activities in these programs," Mr. Lynn said. "It could hurt volunteerism and it could hurt this whole ecumenical spirit of churches, synagogues, temples, mosques all working together in America's inner cities."

Stephen Goldsmith, mayor of Indianapolis who is organizing the program for Mr. Bush, disagreed. "The purpose of the president's proposal is that the people in need should have options," he said.

"If you are homeless and you don't want to be mixed up with a religious organization, you should have an option. The government should never force you through the front door of a religious organization. If, however, you have the choice of a faith-based organization and you, the individual, choose to go there, and you have to pray before your lunch meal, you should be required to pray."

Mr. Goldsmith said groups like the Salvation Army should not be prevented from applying for government support of their services for the poor, and homeless people should have just as much right to go to a government-subsidized Salvation Army shelter as they have to go to a city government shelter.

Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry, said his organization has about 50,000 volunteers working in most major prisons throughout the United States.

He said the group turned down a contract offer from the state of Michigan for a nonresidential program to help integrate former prisoners into the Detroit community.

"The government wanted to give us a million dollars, but they said we couldn't simply hire Christians, and we said keep your million dollars. So I think the faith-based community has to say we are going to keep our independence."

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