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Politics of faith – New agency in works

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President-elect George W. Bush is following up on his campaign pledge to support efforts by religious groups to improve their communities.

Returning to his theme of “compassionate conservatism,” Bush met Dec. 20 with black ministers from throughout the U.S. to try to find common ground with the black community on issues such as charity tax credits, school vouchers for disadvantaged students and lighter regulations for faith-based social service providers, The Washington Post reported.

Bush plans to establish a federal Office of Faith-Based Action and take other steps to remove regulations that prevent religious groups from participating in federal social aid programs, The New York Times reported.

People attending the meeting said Bush indicated the new office would be headed by Stephen Goldsmith, the former mayor of Indianapolis, who was chief domestic policy adviser to Bush during the presidential campaign.

Bush also wants to make it easier for churches, charities and other non-governmental groups to get tax dollars to operate federal programs, and to create tax breaks to increase charitable donations by individuals and corporations, the Times said.

The meeting with black ministers signals an effort by Bush to reach out to blacks, who gave him the weakest support a Republican presidential candidate has received in 16 years, the Post said.

The meeting has sparked criticism from some civil rights leaders, who strongly supported Vice President Gore in the election and still are angered by what they see as the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida.

And despite backing from ministers who attended the meeting, many clergy members fear that increased government financial for religious social-service programs could open the door to government regulation and interference in their ministries, the Times said.

They also are wary that tax dollars could go to the biggest and most politically plugged-in ministers, while others worry that Bush’s whole initiative amounts to government financing for pushing its message, the Times said.

For full story, go to AltaVista and The New York Times.

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