Keeping the faith – Giving could suffer

The scholar named by President Bush to foster community work by religious and nonprofit groups says Bush’s proposed repeal of the estate tax could hurt charitable giving, The New York Times reported Feb. 10.

Taxing large estates is a big incentive for the wealthiest Americans to make big charitable donations and thus reduce the size of their estates, the Times said.

The top rate of 55 percent applies to the amount of an estate above $3.675 million.

“I don’t want to be the skunk at the picnic, John J. DiIulio Jr., director of the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told the Times. “But no, I don’t think the estate tax should be eliminated – modified, maybe, but not eliminated.”

The office DiIulio heads is charged with boosting charitable donations, in part with the help of Bush’s plan to let taxpayers who don’t itemize take a charitable deduction anyway, the Times said, and by helping religious groups compete for federal dollars.

A White House spokesman told the Times that Bush believes his tax plan “is the right thing to do.”

At a public forum last week about his new office, DiIulio also addressed the growing debate about whether Bush’s faith-based strategy would trigger either government interference with religion or religious interference with government.

DiIulio, a former professor of politics, religion and civil society at the University of Pennsylvania, told the forum, sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about the most comprehensive study on the issue so far.

The study, he said, examined “community-serving activities of churches in the city of Philadelphia” and found a broad range of theologies from the most to the least “evangelical or proselytizing.”

But the study found that “almost none of those activities made “any kind of religious conversion or ritual” a condition for participation, he said.

For full story about DiIulio’s comments about the estate tax, go to The New York Times. For full story about the church-state discussion at the public forum, go to The New York Times. For a transcript of the church-state forum discussion, go to Pew Forum.

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