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North America - United States - Legislation

Presidents idea comes to fruition
by Max Albright ("Amarillo Globe-News," March 4, 2001)

Praise the Lord and pass the government grants.

During President George W. Bush's first 100 days in office, one of his priorities has been to expand the role church groups have in taking care of people in need.

Bush's proposed "faith-based initiatives'' would allow religious groups to apply for billions of dollars in government social-services grants. The president has created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and similar offices in five federal departments.

"This initiative is not anti-government, but pro-results,'' Bush said during a speech kicking off his approach. His comments are posted on the White House Internet site at www.whitehouse.gov

"It is designed to make sure that faith-based, community-serving groups have a seat at the table. It will eliminate the federal government's discrimination against faith-based organizations,'' Bush said.

Some Baptist groups providing social services will never accept government funding, said the Rev. Roy Kornegay of the Amarillo Baptist Association.

"They will probably refuse the funds because of the fear of the strings attached,'' Kornegay said.

But others likely will participate in faith-based initiatives, Kornegay said. Each group will make its own decision because Baptists don't have a central authority that rules on such issues, Kornegay said.

"It is going to vary considerably,'' Kornegay said. "It is going to be a dilemma for some of the churches.''

Baptists believe the government should not establish or support a religion, or make any laws hindering the practice of religion, in short the separation of church and state, Kornegay said.

America's famous "Bill of Rights,'' which is actually the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, never mentions the "separation of church and state.''

The courts, however, have construed the First Amendment phrase, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,'' as the "separation of church and state,'' said Amarillo attorney Jim Wood. Wood is the chairman of the Randall County Democratic Party.

Wood said he is opposed to Bush's faith-based initiatives because government grants will interfere with the separation of church and state, and, Wood said, he doubts Congress will OK the idea.

"(Faith-based initiatives) will be used to spread religious beliefs at least indirectly,'' Wood said. "I think they are really going across the line.''

Faith-based initiatives would come with government strings attached and likely would spark complaints, Wood said. Some members of one religion will have a hard time with a differing religious group receiving money from the government, Wood said.

Bush's plan is a great idea, said Tom Roller, chairman of the Potter County Republican Party.

"I'm absolutely in favor of it; I'm very excited about it,'' said Roller, who sells commercial real estate.

Roller said he doesn't see a conflict with faith-based initiatives and the separation of church and state.

"It is in no way establishing a religion,'' he said.

Faith-based groups are highly motivated and are already providing help to people, Roller said.

"It's much less expensive to help people if the public is doing it instead of the government,'' Roller said.

Chuck Jones, administrator at Trinity Fellowship Christian School, said he supports Bush's faith-based social services initiatives, but government grants should not be used to convert people to Christianity, Islam or another religion.

"I think people have problems with that,'' said Jones, who said he is an evangelical Christian.

Bush's faith-based plan will have to navigate some choppy constitutional waters, said Jones, who was a member of the 2000 Texas Electoral College that elected Bush.

"I support it, but some issues are going to have to be revolved,'' Jones said.

Faith-based groups offering social services often do a more efficient job than the government does, Jones said. The important thing is that people who need help get it, Jones said. But, Jones said, "I would not want federal money going to some other faith to covert people to that faith.''

Bush said his faith-based program will boost community-serving groups "whether run by Methodists, Muslims, Mormons or good people of no faith at all.''

Bush said he is trying to "rally America's armies of compassion.''

Tim Holloway, who heads the High Plains Christian Ministries Foundation and Baptist Community Services, said many faith-based agencies could be "very positively affected'' by Bush's proposal.

"I think it's a great idea,'' Holloway said. The foundation headed by Holloway gives money to Christian groups.

Government grants to faith-based groups will only work, however, if they do not interfere with the spreading of the Gospel, Holloway said.