- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

MILWAUKEE President Bush yesterday accused the federal government of discriminating against religious organizations by denying them grants because of words such as "Jewish" in their titles.
"That's not right," Mr. Bush said at a church here. "The federal government should not ask: 'Does your organization believe in God?'"
The president singled out the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a New York charity whose letterhead contains a Star of David with Hebrew writing inside.
"Because of their name and their identity, federal officials have repeatedly discouraged them from applying for federal funds," the president said. "Organizations that have a religious name or religious icons on the wall, like a cross or Star of David, should be welcomed partners in providing for the poor."
The president yesterday said he has taken preliminary actions to strip discriminatory language from the federal grants programs.
"I've told all my Cabinet officers that's what I expect to happen in Washington," he said. "We've got to get our federal agencies to remove regulations that discriminate against faith-based groups."
The Milwaukee speech marked Mr. Bush's strongest use of the bully pulpit on this issue in the 18 months he has been in office.
He spent much of last year, before the September 11 terrorist attacks, trying to push his faith-based legislation through Congress, but yesterday's words indicate a growing frustration with how bureaucrats make decisions on a day-to-day basis and implement laws and regulations.
Last week, Mr. Bush sent a top official to meet with the Jewish group, which he called "a group of people who want to help" about the discrimination it experienced from the federal government.
"They feed the hungry, regardless of somebody's religion," Mr. Bush said. "They don't ask, 'What is your religion?'; they ask, 'Are you hungry?'"
The official sent by Mr. Bush was Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
"They do receive some public funds, but they found that with certain agencies, they just quit trying because they were told, 'You had Jewish in your name, and therefore, you weren't eligible to apply,'" Mr. Towey told reporters on Air Force One.
"If you have a religious name, or if you have governing articles that are faith-oriented, you often can be excluded from even being considered to provide a federal program or federal service, regardless of how effective your programs are," he added.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer went further.
He said: "The American people would be just as shocked to hear that there are barriers to prevent faith-based groups from getting federal aid as they were shocked to hear the ruling of the San Francisco court" that last week declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional for using the words "under God."
"There's a similarity," he added. "The public does believe that the government should be neutral on faith, but it should not discriminate against faith."
To remedy the situation, Mr. Bush also called on the Senate to pass his faith-based initiative, which would remove barriers of discrimination and give new tax breaks to people who donate to religious groups and other causes.
Under the legislation, even people who do not itemize their tax returns would get a tax break on charitable donations of between $250 and $500 a year.
The Republican-controlled House passed the measure last summer, but the Democrat-controlled Senate has not voted on it.
"I look forward to the Senate getting the bill out of the Senate as quickly as possible, any differences reconciled with the House, and get it on my desk so I can sign it," the president told charity workers at Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ.
Mr. Fleischer said discrimination against religious groups applying for federal funds has received surprisingly little public attention.
"What's really gone unaddressed in this debate is why groups right now aren't getting money," he said. "You don't have to dig deep to find some of the most amazing counterproductive stories you will hear about groups just getting denied federal aid or discouraged from even applying for federal aid for the simple reason that they have religious-sounding names even."
Mr. Towey said one of those cases involved Lutheran Social Services in South Dakota.
"They had their application kicked back because they had a mission statement that was faith-based in it," he said. "It didn't have anything to do with the service they were going to provide. It simply had to do with the fact this is who we are."
The incident happened in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush tried to put pressure on Mr. Daschle by quoting from an op-ed piece the senator wrote in a local South Dakota newspaper.
"It's a bipartisan proposal that strikes the right balance between harnessing the best forces of faith in our public life without infringing on the First Amendment," Mr. Daschle wrote. "Most importantly, it is representative of what we can accomplish in Washington when we put partisanship and politics aside and focus on what matters."
Mr. Bush added: "I agree with that."


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