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Evangelical group backs `faith-based' aid, but opposes government regs. (People & Events).

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) wants religious groups to get tax aid to provide social programs--but isn't interested in taking on new government regulations in the process.

Meeting last month at a national conference in Eden Prairie, Minn., the NAE adopted a resolution lauding President George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative but insisted that any funds given to religious groups under the program be allocated with few strings attached. Specifically, the NAE resolution demands the right of religious groups to take government aid, yet still engage in discrimination on the basis of religion when hiring staff.

Opponents of the faith-based initiative have argued that exempting publicly funded religious groups from anti-discrimination laws rolls back the nation's commitment to civil rights. They are working to have provisions banning all forms of discrimination included in the faith-based initiative.

NAE leaders disagree.

"Faith-based organizations are based on having people of like faith and like vision," said the Rev. Bill Hamel, chairman of the organization's board. "They want the freedom to be able to hire who they want."

The NAE is an umbrella organization for various evangelical Protestant bodies. During the conference, the group sponsored a daylong training session on how to apply for government funding called "A Roadmap to Faith-Based Government Funding." Among the speakers was James Towey, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The workshop was cosponsored by the Institute for Youth Development, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that has received a federal grant to help faith-based and community groups learn how to apply for and get tax funding. Critics of the faith-based initiative said the Institute's decision to use federal funds to run a workshop in conjunction with the NAE conference is further evidence of the Bush administration's bias toward funding evangelical Christian groups.

The Institute is led by Shepherd Smith, who formerly ran a Religious Right-oriented group called Americans for Sound AIDS/HIV Policy.
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Words:320
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