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Bush Pushes Plan to Increase Funding to Religious Charities - 2002-02-01

President Bush has named a new leader of his effort to give more government funding to religious-based charities. The move has met with some opposition from legislators concerned about maintaining the separation of church and state.

President Bush hopes to use a new national service campaign to generate more momentum for increasing funding for religious charities. By linking that effort with his push for more volunteerism in America, the president hopes to avoid the controversy that last year stalled his faith-based initiative.

Some congressional Democrats questioned the plan because it appeared to allow religious charities to discriminate in their hiring practices while receiving federal funds. The plan passed the Republican-controlled House but was blocked in the Democratic-led Senate.

President Bush Friday began another push to get that legislation through Congress, calling it a campaign to change America one heart and one soul at a time. "The purpose of this initiative recognizes the power of faith in helping heal some of our nation's wounds," he said. "The purpose of this initiative is to rally the armies of compassion which are spread throughout the United States of America. The purpose of the initiative is to recognize our greatest strength the hearts and souls of the American people, and apply that strength to help solve problems which afflict many of our citizens."

The president named a new director for his Office of Community and Faith-Based Initiatives. Jim Towey directed health and rehabilitative services for the state of Florida after 10 years with Mother Theresa's charity. At a White House ceremony announcing his appointment, Mr. Towey thanked God for the chance to contribute to the spiritual well being of the nation.

"It has been my privilege to work with the poor and to see firsthand the difference that charities and faith-based organizations can make in their lives," Mr. Towey said. "Mother Theresa introduced me to this joy that comes from befriending those in need and discovering their tremendous dignity."

President Bush said Mr. Towey's office will work with members of Congress from both political parties to draft legislation ending discrimination against government funding for faith-based and community-based groups. Mr. Bush called it a tremendous opportunity for government to help groups fighting poverty, drug addiction, abuse, illiteracy and homelessness.

"Government cannot stand in the way of the good works of the people in our neighborhoods," Mr. Bush said. "Government must expedite and stand on the side of faith-based programs. We should not discriminate at the federal level against people who are trying to help us solve the nation's problems."

Funding for religious charities was a big part of Mr. Bush's campaign for the presidency. Now after the terrorist attacks of September 11, he said there is an even greater need to put government squarely on the side of faith and community-based groups.