Beliefnet
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 (RNS) -- A coalition of gay religious and civil rights groupshas offered to work with President Bush on his plan to provide federalsocial service funds to faith-based organizations -- but only if Bushagrees to a nondiscrimination policy as part of his plan.

The coalition, headed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force andthe progressive Equal Partners in Faith, said it is concernedhomosexuals and predominantly gay churches could be denied funding or services because of sexual orientation.

It also said it was concerned tax dollars could be used by religious-based programs that seek to change the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians.

``Could our tax dollars be used to fund and support the religiousconversion therapy of groups like Exodus or Coral Ridge Ministries?''asked Steven Baines, a gay Southern Baptist minister and executivecoordinator of Equal Partners in Faith.

Sexual orientation and federal dollars have already clashed in thepast. Last year, the Kentucky Baptist Children's Home fired a lesbianstaffer, even though the charity received at least $13 million in taxdollars.

Since Bush unveiled his plan last month, civil liberties groups havesaid the proposal tears down the wall of separation between church andstate and threatens to overrun private charities with government redtape.

Baines and Elizabeth Toledo, executive director of the Task Force,share those concerns, but they are even more worried that groups that donot share Bush's conservative views on homosexuality would be shut outaltogether.

``I absolutely don't think religious institutions should be outsidethe pool of institutions that receive federal funds,'' Toledo said at aluncheon here of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable. ``But anybodywho receives federal funds for the delivery of social services needs tohave a nondiscrimination policy in place.''

As with any government program, the devil lies in the details, andfew have been fleshed out in Bush's proposal. Bush has said he will workwith Congress on addressing concerns and vowed that nondiscriminationwill be a top priority.

Making the matter even more murky is an unclear legal precedent.Several states, such as New Jersey, have had successful faith-basedprograms in place for years with few problems. But last year the U.S.Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, canexclude gay leaders and members, although the case did not involvefederal funds.

Catholics and Lutherans have received millions of federal dollarsfor years, and gay members of both churches supported those programs andeven increased funding -- as long as they are not excluded.

``None of this has flesh on it yet,'' said Bob Miailovich, a formerpresident of Dignity USA, a group of gay Catholics. ``But we want to besure that whatever is set up has appropriate safeguards, controls andprotections.''

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