- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005


Where the government stumbled, churches rushed in.

That’s the message religious disaster-relief groups already are bringing to Capitol Hill, hoping the dramatic example of how they quickly got aid to Hurricane Katrina survivors along the Gulf Coast will build new momentum for President Bush’s drive to expand federal funding for faith-based groups.

“There’s always an emotional sensitivity in times of crisis. If that’s what it takes to get it passed, so be it,” said Maj. Gen. George Hood, a top official with the Salvation Army, a lead agency in Katrina relief.

Critics are alarmed by this latest push, saying the work of churches after the natural disaster — while heroic — does not resolve the complex constitutional questions surrounding Mr. Bush’s faith-based proposals. But religious leaders contend that, with such overwhelming need, lawmakers must act quickly.

Bob Reccord, who is coordinating the massive relief operation for the Southern Baptist Convention, plans to lobby federal lawmakers and last week testified with Mr. Hood before a Senate subcommittee on behalf of the CARE Act. The legislation would provide tax breaks and other incentives to Americans making charitable donations, and is part of a broader campaign to ease restrictions on federal grants for social service providers with a religious mission.

Mr. Reccord and Mr. Hood told lawmakers about volunteers who put themselves at risk along the Gulf Coast to save others, and about church members serving millions of meals to evacuees. Except for a few government supplies, the costs were covered by private donations alone.

Other religious leaders deeply involved in the relief effort say barriers to federal funding are hurting the most vulnerable storm victims.

Bishop T.D. Jakes, who gave the sermon Friday at the Washington National Cathedral service marking Mr. Bush’s day of prayer for victims, has told the president that more money should be channeled directly to religious groups responding to the tragedy.

“I felt it was incumbent upon me to share with him that the faith-based community is working with 10 percent, or a tithe, of people’s income, while the government is working with 30 percent of everyone’s income,” said Bishop Jakes, a best-selling author and pastor of the Potter’s House, a 30,000-member Dallas church.

Opponents, however, say it would be a mistake to set policy based on the Katrina response.

James Dunn, who served in Washington for more than two decades with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which works to protect the separation of church and state, said that among the unresolved constitutional issues is Mr. Bush’s desire to allow church groups to consider religion in hiring, even if they receive federal grants.

Critics say that’s discrimination.

“I think what’s happening is they’re trying to dismantle the civil rights program without saying it,” said Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

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