A major policy initiative by U.S. President George W. Bush to increase federal support for faith-based organizations and charities that provide social services is drawing mixed reactions from the nation's faith communities.

The initiative, announced during a series of appearances by the new president late in January, would allow faith-based groups to compete for about $10 billion in funds for various social service programs—in effect, opening up the management of many programs to faith-based groups and charities.

The plan also creates a White House office for faith-based initiatives and calls for five federal agencies to assist faith-based groups in expanding their social services.

President Bush also wants to increase tax deductions available to faith-based groups to encourage Americans to donate more money to charities.

President Bush, a United Methodist who openly discussed his faith during the 2000 presidential campaign, said that religious groups were often in a better position to provide assistance to the needy than the federal government.

At the same time, he said that the federal government must maintain the official U.S. constitutional separation of church and state, and that federal funds would not be used for expressly religious purposes.

"We will encourage faith-based and community programs without changing their mission," the president said in announcing the new initiative. "We will help all [of them] in their work to change hearts while keeping a commitment to pluralism."

Criticism of the plan has stemmed from two major concerns: first, that the initiative puts at risk the boundary between church and state; second, that faith-based groups, particularly congregations, often do not have the capacity to implement ...

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