- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

A Jewish group is suing the independent federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps and other programs, accusing it of crossing the line between church and state by sponsoring religious teaching in some schools.
The American Jewish Congress filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal court against the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps.
The Jewish group asked the court to stop AmeriCorps from funding programs that teach religion, saying government support for religious instruction in sectarian schools is a violation of the Constitution.
The lawsuit was filed the same day that the Bush administration announced it was awarding $25 million in federal grants to 21 groups, several of them religious.
President Bush also has been pushing a "faith-based initiative" to award more money to religious organizations, but the initiative has stalled in Congress because of debate over how religious programs can be given government money without violating the separation of church and state.
The American Jewish Congress charges that the Corporation for National and Community Service provides grants to parochial institutions, including the Alliance for Catholic Education. This allows such institutions to teach Christian values to AmeriCorps participants and to hold daily Mass and prayer services, the complaint said.
AmeriCorps members, who help more than 2,100 charities and religious groups with community-improvement projects, are barred by their contract from participating in religious activities, the suit said.
The lawsuit was prompted by comments made by corporation officials in a television debate over a year ago, said Marc Stern, a lawyer for the American Jewish Congress.
Mr. Stern, who participated in the debate, recalled corporation officials conceding they had been sending people into Catholic schools for years.
The American Jewish Congress investigated and attempted to negotiate with the corporation, but filed the lawsuit when no action was taken, Mr. Stern said.
"We think some parts of this [case] are open and shut," he said. "We're not trying to put the national service corporation out of business. We're seeking to prohibit people from teaching religion or living in a religious community under the auspices of the government."
Mr. Stern said the lawsuit doesn't have anything to do with the Bush administration's initiative.

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