WASHINGTON, April 12 (AP) -- Conservative groups rallied around President Bush's effort to direct more government money to religious organizations, trying to bolster an initiative that has been battered from the left and the right.

The coalition, which includes many religious groups, argued Wednesday that government should finance programs based on religion not despite their religious teachings but because of them.

``There is no motivation like divine love ... to change a life at its very center,'' said Connie Marshner of the Free Congress Foundation, who is chairman of the newly formed Coalition for Compassion.

``We are in a moral and spiritual free fall, and nothing short of a revival of our values and ethics will make a difference,'' said Robert Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

That's a bit different from the position usually espoused by John DiIulio, head of the White House Office of Community and Faith-Based Initiatives, who was on hand Wednesday. DiIulio likes to talk about groups that are denied government money because they happen to park their lumber in a church parking lot or because they have a religious name, not about those that have religion at their core.

Also Wednesday, a group of liberal groups sent a letter to members of the House urging rejection of legislation expanding ``charitable choice'' to a half-dozen more social programs.

Their letter, which called charitable choice ``a frontal assault on the First Amendment and religious liberty,'' was signed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and several civil rights groups, unions and other left-leaning organizations.

The new Coalition for Compassion hopes to counter such criticism, as well as darts thrown by Christian conservatives who fear that government money will corrupt churches who take it.

Backers said Wednesday that religious groups will have to be careful. ``It would truly be a tragedy if a single church were to change its mission one nanometer because of government money,'' Marshner said.

Other groups in the coalition include the American Conservative Union, Eagle Forum, Family Research Council, Concerned Women of America and National Association of Evangelicals.

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