WASHINGTON, March 13 (AP) - A pair of religious groups is releasing a guide warning churches and others of the perils of accepting government money, the latest in a series of darts aimed at the White House effort to direct more government social service funds to the faith community.

The guide, produced by the Interfaith Alliance Foundation and the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, expresses misgivings about ``charitable choice,'' which allows churches and other religious groups to qualify for grants without divorcing their programs from religion.

``Religion thrives in America because it is funded with voluntary gifts, rather than by compulsory tax funds, and because it remains largely free from governmental regulation,'' the groups asserted Tuesday.<> Their guide recommends that religious groups create spin-off, secular affiliates if they want government money, keeping their religious activities and dollars separate. That, essentially, is how religious groups have participated in government programs for years.

The groups plan to produce 20,000 copies of the guide for distribution around the country.

They also plan a series of forums in about 15 states where religious people can discuss the White House initiative. They hope to gather testimonials and information from the grass roots to use in the debate.

``The nation needs a thorough conversation about central issues of both a constitutional nature and a religious nature,'' said C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, a Washington-based group that claims support from more than 50 faith traditions, including Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and Jews.

``We are at such a U-turn in the institutional relationship between religion and government with this proposal that we dare not make that turn without being fully informed.''

It's just the latest attack on the Bush plan, which has also come under fire from evangelical Christians who worry that government money will drain churches of their religious character and that groups outside the mainstream -- such as the Nation of Islam, the Hare Krishna movement or the Church of Scientology -- also will qualify for funding.

On Monday, the Rev. Pat Robertson wrote in The Wall Street Journal that religious programs are successful because of their religious components. With government regulation, he argued, their very reason for being may be lost. And giving money to non-mainstream religions, he said, ``creates an intolerable situation.''

In a speech last week to the National Association of Evangelicals, John DiIulio, who heads the White House office spearheading the initiative, responded that organizations who fear government money will corrupt their religious core ought not participate.

He also took a rhetorical swipe at ``predominantly white, ex-urban evangelical'' leaders, saying they should put their time and money where their mouths are. ``It's fine to fret about `hijacked faith,' but ... such frets would persuade more and rankle less if they were backed by real human and financial help,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Bush says his plan is on track, despite a Monday Washington Post article that said the unexpected criticism from Christian conservatives such as Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell was cause the administration to revise its plan.

``I'm proud of the faith-based initiative. There's a lot of bipartisan support on the Hill. We're moving forward with that,'' Bush said Monday in Panama City, Fla.

On Capitol Hill, Reps. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., and Tony Hall, D-Ohio, plan to introduce legislation by late March translating much of Bush's plan into law.

The bill is expceted to:

  • Expand charitable choice to programs in juvenile justice, housing, job training, hunger relief, domestic violence and crime prevention.
  • Make changes in the tax code to encourage charitable giving, including a new tax deduction for filers who do not itemize and new flexibility to donate money from individual retirement accounts without penalty.
  • Limit corporate liability for in-kind donations of equipment and facilities to nonprofit groups.
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