- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2003

Senate Republicans said last week that they will remove protections for faith-based charities from a scaled-down version of President Bush's faith-based initiative to give the bill a better chance of becoming law this year.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, would provide tax incentives to encourage charitable giving to faith-based and community groups. It could reach the Senate floor as early as this week.
Mr. Santorum said last week that he will strip faith-based protections from the bill because of Democratic objections preventing it from coming to the Senate floor. The language would have provided that a faith-based group cannot be discriminated against and denied federal funds simply because it has religious criteria for governing board members, religious language in its charter, a religious name or religious art or icons in its facilities.
Mr. Santorum said the House has also agreed to leave faith-based protections out of the bill.
A House Republican leadership aide said the House would move a bill, which the leaders hope to do this spring, that contains only the tax-related provisions.
In the previous Congress, the House passed a broad faith-based bill that would have expanded so-called charitable choice and included even stronger language allowing groups to hire only those of the same faith while receiving federal funds. Critics said it amounted to government-funded discrimination, and the bill stalled in the Senate.
Mr. Santorum took up the less-contentious aspects of the House bill and, along with the White House, crafted his own, which consists mostly of tax provisions and some protections for faith-based groups. The bill has bipartisan support.
But Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Jack Reed of Rhode Island said the protection language could open the door to allow faith-based groups to discriminate in hiring while receiving federal funds.
"This isn't a defeat for the president's faith-based initiative," said Neil Bradley, executive director of the House Republican Study Committee. "Conservatives have always been committed to getting the full protections for faith-based initiatives enacted into law. The provisions in the Senate bill were only some of the necessary protections."
Many said their concerns can be addressed in other legislation, including the welfare reform bill.
"The president is committed to ending discrimination against faith-based groups," said Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. "The issue … is not going away. The president is going to push forward in Congress, and he has great support to do that."
The Santorum bill, among other provisions, would allow Americans who do not itemize on their taxes to deduct a portion of their charitable giving, provide tax incentives for restaurants that donate extra food to the needy, increase social-services grants to states by $1.4 billion and provide technical assistance to help small faith-based and community groups compete for federal funds.
Some House Republicans, however, still may want to address the hiring issue in the bill.
"I'm sure there will be some sentiment from some members that they will want to put it back in," said Derek Karchner, spokesman for Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican. He added, however, that "there are a number of other vehicles that we can use and we are exploring to address hiring."

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