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Bush hammers home faith-based initiative

President Bush
Bush and a Habitat for Humanity volunteer on the job in Waco.  

WACO, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush donned jeans, running shoes and a baseball cap Wednesday as he took time from his monthlong vacation to make an appearance at a Habitat for Humanity project here to promote his so-called faith-based initiative.

Bush, first lady Laura Bush, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez and Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined Habitat for Humanity volunteers for about 15 minutes as they erected a house for a needy family.

Under Bush's faith-based initiative bill recently passed by a key House committee, Habitat for Humanity and other faith-based groups would be eligible for federal funds which allow churches, synagogues and mosques help deliver $250 billion in federal social programs.

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The major elements of the president's initiative would allow increased tax deductions for charitable donations and let religious groups compete for more federal grants to provide expanded social services.

Despite bipartisan support, the proposals have drawn fire from across the political spectrum with many concerned they would violate separation of church and state. Bush disagrees and praised the proposal at the Waco event.

"The federal government will be a welcoming agency," Bush said during a brief speech at the construction site. "It will put money up to allow faith-based programs to compete side-by-side with secular programs all aimed at making sure America is the greatest country possible for every single citizen."

Habitat for Humanity International describes itself as "a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian organization that seeks to build affordable housing for people in need."

The group's Web site says "Habitat has built more than 90,000 houses in more than 60 countries, including 30,000 in the United States" since its founding in 1976.

Before first swinging a hammer on the house, Bush bowed his head for a prayer by Pastor Joe Carbajal, who praised the president. "The things that you speak about on a daily basis are important to our nation, to our families, to Habitat for Humanity," he said.

During the prayer, a protester shouted, "Jail to the thief!"

Bush, who in June pitched in on a Habitat for Humanity home in Tampa, Florida, follows in the footsteps of former President Jimmy Carter. This week Carter continues a long association with Habitat by helping to build homes in South Korea along with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

• The White House
• Habitat for Humanity

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