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I try to avoid being delusional. When President Bush created the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, I didn't lament the possibility of donating federal funds to religious organizations. The truth is, there has never been a complete separation of church and state. Our currency reads "In God We Trust." Our Pledge of Allegiance promises "one nation under God." The 1996 welfare reform law already provides funding for religious-based charities. And our new president's inaugural address teemed with references to the importance of Jesus Christ. So while it is frustrating that we have not yet reached the presumed constitutional promise of separation between church and state, I accept that Bush's presidency will probably not reverse this trend. What is concerning, however, is the lack of civil rights protection in current and previous religious-based programs and legislation. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer promised, "It is not the religious aspect of what [faith-based groups] do that is getting funding, it is the community service aspect." I question, however, how the Bush Administration will make sure that government funds are being used to help all citizens. For example, will the Bush administration fund organizations that support discriminatory ideas? A faith-based group may run charity activities that are secular and still preach doctrines that are extremely exclusionary. In funding any group like this, our federal government is supporting a prejudiced organization, even if the funded activity is not discriminatory itself. I realize that many people view religion as one of the most constructive aspects of American society, and often, they are correct. Religion adds structure, hope and charitable goals to many people's lives. However, while religion's fundamental message is generally that of compassion and love, it is often used as an excuse by prejudiced individuals to enforce their discriminatory views on others. Many states have passed Religious Liberty Protection acts or Religious Freedom Restoration acts. Unfortunately, because this legislation -- like Bush's new department -- often has no safeguards against prejudice, laws that were created to protect are now helping to persecute. Recent court rulings on RLPA and RFRA issues permit housing discrimination based on marital status. An owner may refuse to sell or lease to unmarried couples because it is against the owner's religion to help unmarried couples live together. The new RLPA and RFRA laws state that unless the government can find a need to force the owner to sell or lease indiscriminately, it must allow the owner to do as he or she sees religiously fit. Since the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people are the direct target of this unrestrained legislation, and the government is doing little to protect them. Apparently, forcing equal opportunity in America now constitutes religious persecution. I hate to see what will happen when Pastor Thomas Robb, the national director of the Ku Klux Klan, figures out how to manipulate this law. Texas, interestingly enough, has been the only state to add non-discrimination clauses to RLPA and RFRA legislation. The federal government needs to enforce this safeguard nationally and integrate it into the new faith-based office. Otherwise, something as positive as an intention to help can turn into an extremely focused and legally justified means of discrimination. While it is important to allow people to protect their religious beliefs, and especially their own spiritual destiny, we must remember that our country promises "liberty and justice for all." The rights of the majority must not infringe upon those of the minority. Bush's new campaign to fund activities run by religious groups raises concern, because, once again, there does not seem to be any system developed to monitor the new office's behavior, nor to protect minority civil rights. Religion has no place in government. Our country needs to make compassion a national priority regardless of faith. But don't expect President Bush to remedy the current close relationship between church and state. All I request from Bush and our own John DiIulio is that protective clauses be added to all previous and current legislation and programming. Doing otherwise is to allow our government to embrace discriminatory attitudes and practices, and that's far from a compassionate thing to do.

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