- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

Rep. J.C. Watts, Jr., the Oklahoma Republican, yesterday told a House subcommittee that federal money should be made available to anti-drug groups using religion as part of their drug therapy regimes.

Mr. Watts was testifying on behalf of the Community Solutions Act, a measure he has co-sponsored with Rep. Tony P. Hall, Ohio Democrat. The bill would extend welfare coverage to fund delinquency prevention, job training, programs for seniors and other services.

Under questioning from Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat, Mr. Watts said that if a ministry is successful at ending drug addiction, it should be able to bid for funds. But Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, warned that such allowances would "tear down some of the fire wall between church and state."

And Rep. Robert C. Scott, a Virginia Democrat and leading critic of the Bush faith-based initiative, said the legislation Mr. Watt proposes is needed only if its sponsors want money to go directly to religion.

"Mr. Chairman, you have to answer the question, are you funding the faith?" Mr. Scott said.

Mr. Watts´ testimony flies in the face of legislation that bars using federal funding for welfare programs that require participants to engage in worship or that involve proselytizing. But it is widely known that some potential recipients of government funds incorporate religion in their attempt to help people deal with drug abuse, moral and behavioral problems. And the Watts-Hall bill yesterday received official endorsements from the Salvation Army and the United States Catholic Conference, the policy wing of the church´s U.S. bishops.

"Our expectation is to have a full floor vote by summer," said Kevin Schemers, a spokesman for Mr. Watts.

At the hearing a joint session of the human resources and the select revenue subcommittees of the House Ways and Means Committee three Democrats criticized the White House for not sending a representative to testify. They also said any federal money touching on "religion as a methodology" would lead to widespread abuses.

Mr. Cardin said it was "incredible" that no White House official testified.

White House staffers observing the hearing said that the Justice Departments chief lawyer on the subject, Carl Respect, has testified twice and that the White House Office for Faith Based and Community Initiatives is not authorized to testify unless subpoenaed.

"We´ve been providing input to any and all sides," said Don I. Every, deputy director of the office.

Mr. Hall said that while critics stir "a lot of heat" about possible abuses, they overlook the fact that no civil rights or welfare laws are being changed. The new bill merely expands current funding under a 1996 law that was passed by both parties and that Vice President Al Gore commended during his campaign. There are tax deduction and savings deduction provisions in the bill, but they have stirred little opposition.

Mr. Hall said the legislation helps small rural and urban ministries that reach people who are missed by the large institutional charities.

He said, "Every year [people running those ministries] are having a tough time raising money. But they are doing the job. I don´t see any secular groups who want to go down there and do the work."

Democrats on the subcommittee mostly contended that the large Catholic, Lutheran and Jewish charities, which handle billions of dollars in federal funds each year, were doing just fine and no changes were necessary.

But the funding of the big charities created a monopoly on federal welfare funding and that, in turn, created a new discrimination, Mr. Watts said.

"We already discriminate against people because they are people of faith," he said.

Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said the issue was that big groups got all the money and small ones were pushed aside. "This bill is really about the big guys and the little guys," he said.

Indeed, representatives from both parties agreed that federal funds should go to help small groups set up nonprofit entities so that they may receive welfare grants and avoid church-state problems.

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