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Bush pushes faith-based program before nation's mayors

President Bush
President Bush reiterated that the money used by his proposed faith-based initiatives would be used for social services, not for worship  

DETROIT (CNN) -- President Bush tried to whip up support for his faith-based initiative among the nation's mayors Monday, calling religious and community groups "America's armies of compassion" in the battle against social ills.

"Charities and community groups cannot do everything. But we strongly believe they can do more," he said in an address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "We must find creative ways to expand their size and increase their number, and now is the time to start."

Bush took on opponents of his plan to allow religious groups to compete for federal grants to provide social services, which critics say treads too heavily on the separation of church and state.

"The days of discriminating against religious institutions simply because they're religious must come to an end if we want to heal America," Bush said.

Rosa Parks announces support of U.S. President George W. Bush's plan for government funding of faith-based initiatives (June 25)

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Monday's appearance in Detroit was part of a White House effort to build a constituency for the faith-based initiative, which has been languishing on Capitol Hill. The plan picked up an endorsement from the mayors -- about 70 percent of whom are Democrats -- and from civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.

In his speech, Bush also quoted liberal icon Robert Kennedy, saying he agreed with the late senator's belief in giving "government back to the people of the neighborhood." He also highlighted the role of African-American churches in providing social programs, including day care, drug abuse prevention, job assistance and distribution of food and clothing.

"They're far more likely to apply for funds for their programs than other churches, and the people who most often benefit from the outreach efforts of African-American churches are poor children," Bush said. "Their work should be praised and welcomed and encouraged."

Bush also noted that religious and community groups already receive public support to provide social services. Houses of worship host Head Start and childcare programs, Medicare and Medicaid funds flow to religious hospitals, and groups such as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army operate public services, he said.

"In all these cases, we are funding the good works of the faithful, not faith itself," Bush said. "Do the critics of this approach really want to end these programs? I certainly hope not. It would be bad for America."

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