WASHINGTON – President Bush is renewing his push in favor of faith-based initiatives, promoting the goal of letting religious groups compete for government money to help the needy.
Launched in the earliest days of his administration and stalled in Congress, the president's plans for religious-based organizations are the focus of a national White House conference of community leaders Tuesday.
Opponents of the effort worry that government would wind up paying for religion. They also object to allowing taxpayer-funded groups to hire and fire based on religious persuasion.
Thwarted by Congress, the president has sidestepped lawmakers with executive orders and regulations to give religious organizations equal footing in competing for federal contracts. He is still fighting for legislation that would give religious groups access to federal funds as long as their services are available to anyone.
The goal is to make sure that grassroots leaders can compete on an equal footing for federal dollars, receive greater private support and face fewer bureaucratic barriers, the White House says.
The White House is targeting for help organizations that serve at-risk youth, ex-offenders, the homeless and the hungry, substance abusers, welfare-to-work families, and those with HIV or AIDS.
At a regional conference on the subject in March, Bush said the efforts of religious and community organizations "will change our nation for the better."
The Bush administration is offering participants in the national conference networking opportunities with Cabinet agency officials and is urging those who attend to stay in town an extra day and spread the word to lawmakers "about the good work you are doing in your community," the White House says on its Internet site.
The White House calls the president's faith-based initiative "a fresh start and bold new approach to government's role in helping those in need."
Two weeks ago, the president took that message to Wisconsin, a state he lost by less than 6,000 votes four years ago and where he is running a tight race against Democratic rival John Kerry.