- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

President Bush yesterday said Congress must ensure that faith-based groups are “not forced to give up their right to hire people of their own faith as a price for competing for federal money.”

“Part of making sure you can do your job is to make sure regulations don’t stand in the way of doing your job,” Mr. Bush told a group of religious leaders and mentors at Paul Junior High Public Charter School in Northwest.

The president and first lady Laura Bush visited the school to speak about an initiative that urges at-risk children to shun gangs and drugs and avoid making dead-end choices.

“Children throughout America face a lot of problems,” Mrs. Bush said about her initiative, Helping America’s Youth, which stresses that every child needs a caring adult, a relative or a mentor.

“In the fall, we’re hosting a White House conference on helping America’s youth, bringing together researchers, community leaders, educators and others who want to find solutions to the challenges young Americans face,” she said.

Before yesterday’s event, the first couple met with four children whose parents have spent time in prison. Each was accompanied by a mentor.

“We’re using your example to inspire others,” Mr. Bush told them. “We’re saying to mentors, ‘It’s a very noble service. You’re making a huge contribution.’”

In his speech, Mr. Bush told the story of Lexus Henderson, a seventh-grader at the school who lives with his grandmother because his mother is in prison. The teen has big plans: He told the president he’s going to attend the University of Miami.

“I’ll put in a good word with the governor,” the president said, referring to his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Mr. Bush also pushed his initiative to give religious groups more power to compete with nonsectarian groups for federal contracts.

During the roundtable, he noted that “the first step is to counter a certain prejudice, and you can understand why: there is separation of church and state, and there should be.”

“But there’s a fundamental difference between funding a program that proselytizes and funding a program that helps meet a societal objective,” he said.

“I think there’s a vital role for government to play, but first we’ve got to understand the limitations of government. Government can do a lot of things, but one of the things government is not really good at is love. It can hand out money, but it can’t put hope in a person’s heart. It can’t serve to inspire a person to set goals, like going to college.”

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