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President Bush Meets with Hispanic Religious Leaders - 2002-05-16

President Bush met with Hispanic religious leaders Thursday to push for more government funding for religious charities.

President Bush continues to court Hispanic voters ahead of November's state and legislative elections as the first president to appear at the National Hispanic prayer breakfast.

The Washington meeting brought together more than 700 leaders of Hispanic ministries from across the United States.

Mr. Bush thanked them for their prayers following the terrorist attacks of September 11 and said religion has been a unifying force in the nation, giving Americans strength for what he called "the journey ahead" in fighting terrorism.

The president also used the occasion to campaign for his so-called "faith-based initiative" which would give more federal funds to community and religious groups working on social welfare projects.

He says the plan unleashes the strength of the country by tapping into the compassion of caring citizens. "It welcomes private and faith-based programs," he said. "It says that the days of discriminating, when it comes to the use of federal money, the days of discriminating against religious institutions, simply because they are religious, must come to an end."

Mr. Bush says the plan is necessary to combat "loneliness, despair and hopelessness."

The plan was originally blocked by Democrats concerned about provisions that would exempt religious charities from anti-discrimination laws, by allowing them to hire only people from their own religion. That part of the bill has been changed in the legislation currently up for debate.