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  •   Gore Urges Role for 'Faith-Based' Groups

    Vice President Gore
    Vice President Gore applauds Bradford Culpepper at the Salvation Army's Faith and Values Cafeteria in Atlanta Monday. (AP)
    By Ceci Connolly
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, May 25, 1999; Page A4

    ATLANTA, May 24 – In a speech laced with references to his own religious beliefs, Vice President Gore today proposed expanding the role of faith-based organizations to solve a host of social problems.

    Opening the federal grant process to churches, synagogues and other private groups will create a "new era of civil society collaboration" while still ensuring the separation of church and state in America today, Gore said.

    With today's 30-minute address at a local Salvation Army, Gore officially entered the increasingly competitive political battle over "values" in the 2000 presidential campaign. Both Bill Bradley, Gore's opponent for the Democratic nomination, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the leading Republican contender, are running on records that include the promotion of similar faith-based programs.

    "Today I give you this pledge: If you elect me your president the voices of faith-based organizations will be integral to the policies set forth in my administration," Gore declared.

    Civil libertarians have decried the introduction of religion into government programs, but recent polls show voters overwhelmingly want more holistic solutions to the nation's complex social ills.

    In wading into the delicate subject, Gore attempted to strike a balance between the two, promising there would be "safeguards" and "secular alternatives" to any government partnerships with religious groups -- or as he referred to them, "carefully tailored partnerships with our faith community."

    "The 'politics of community' will be neither government doing everything, nor the churches and charities picking up the slack when government scales back," he said. "A politics of community can be strengthened when we are not afraid to make connections between spirituality and politics."

    Gore's proposed "New Partnership" borrows from a GOP amendment to President Clinton's 1996 welfare reform legislation. Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.) successfully added language to the bill that allows religious groups to bid on government contracts for job training and other welfare-related services. Bradley voted for Ashcroft's provision, known as "charitable choice."

    Ashcroft welcomed Gore's interest, saying in a statement that the vice president's support can be "a very important asset" to efforts in Congress to expand the provision to other areas of federal law.

    Gore's proposal is a work in progress, but aides said he wants to broaden the Ashcroft concept to at least three specific problems: homelessness, youth violence and drug addiction. Gore envisions making it easier for religious organizations to receive federal grants to respond. "They can do so with public funds -- and without having to alter the religious character that is so often key to their effectiveness," he said.

    Gore, a Baptist who attended one year of divinity school, urged private corporations to match employee contributions to religious groups. "For too long, faith-based organizations have wrought miracles on a shoestring. With the steps I'm proposing today, they will no longer need to depend on faith alone," he said to a chorus of "amen" from the audience.

    Since the school shootings in Littleton, Colo., Gore has spoken about the need to repair America's frayed social fabric. He has pitched tougher gun control laws, greater parental involvement and teaching character and discipline in the schools. Today, he attempted to weave those policy ideas with a more personal message of faith and redemption.

    "I believe that faith in itself is sometimes essential to spark a personal transformation," he said.

    In the speech, the second policy address of Gore's presidential campaign, he quoted passages of the Bible, cited Jewish teachings and described the power of faith in his wife Tipper's work with the homeless and drug-addicted. "I have personally seen how this works."

    Despite his 16 years in Congress and seven in the White House, Gore blamed Washington for failing to fully appreciate the value of religious groups in tackling societal woes once dropped on government's doorstep. "I came here today to say this: The moment has come for Washington to catch up to the rest of America," he said. "The moment has come to use the people's government to better help them help their neighbors."

    Gore bemoaned the "allergy to faith" in society and pressed for a national dialogue that includes all faiths. "Prosperity can build a million bigger garages," he said, "but it can also create institutions in which the human spirit can flourish and soar."

    After the speech, Gore met with the families involved in last week's shootings at Heritage High School in nearby Conyers. He also raised $600,000 for his campaign in stops here and earlier in Orlando.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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