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Bush pushes 'charitable choice' at Ohio church

CLEVELAND (CNN) -- President Bush toured a soup kitchen and social service center Thursday as he made a call to rally "the armies of compassion" through his faith-based funding initiative.

President Bush speaks in Cleveland on faith-based programs.  

"I wish I knew the law that says, 'Love a neighbor like you liked to be loved yourself.' I'd sign it if that would mandate that to happen," Bush told a crowd at St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church. "But I think of all nations of the world, we understand that law comes from a higher calling than government. And the great challenge for our nation is to rally what I call the armies of compassion all across America so that nobody is left behind."

Bush outlined the "charitable choice" measure he has proposed to Congress. It includes $500 million to help provide seed money for social service programs such as the soup kitchen and other services offered by the church Bush toured.

The program, which will allow religious-based groups to compete for government funds without having to omit religious elements from their programs, has come under fire from both conservative and liberal religious groups. Conservatives fear the program might make fringe religious groups more visible. Liberals fear the program could blur the line between church and state.

Bush responded to the critics.

"We'll never fund faith, we'll never fund churches, but we should fund the armies of compassion. We should not discriminate against faith-based programs which exist to help people in need," he said.

He noted that he will call a "convocation" of U.S. foundations and corporations next fall to map out a strategy on how "to get more money into the coffers of the faith-based programs in neighborhoods all across America."

The "charitable choice" bill was introduced to the House by J.C. Watts, R.-Oklahoma, in March and is currently being considered by the Ways and Means and the Judicial committees.

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