White House faith-based director vows to fight restrictive local government

Posted: Friday, August 13, 2004

FALMOUTH, Maine (AP) The head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives says he'll fight local governments that block federal funding of religious groups.

''Sometimes you see local governments that bully faith-based organizations and basically tell them that they have to compromise their religious beliefs and tenets if they want to partner with government,'' said Jim Towey, who met last week with Catholic Charities of Maine.

''That may be their prerogative when it's state and local money,'' Towey said, ''but when it's federal money that raises a whole different set of issues.''

Portland's domestic partnership ordinance restricts federal funding to the Roman Catholic nonprofit because it provides no benefits to same-sex partners of employees or unmarried heterosexual partners of staff members. The charity responded by suing the city in March 2003.

Towey said ordinances such as the one in Portland ''discriminate against faith-based organizations.''

Some objected to Towey's characterization of the law.

''It is not bullying to tell a group that it has to obey the same laws as everyone else,'' said the Rev. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, based in Washington, D.C. ''Mr. Towey, although he talks about a level playing field, in fact wants to require secular groups to abide by civil rights laws but not religious groups. Frankly, they all should abide by basic principles of fairness and equality that we find in the Constitution, if they get federal funds.''

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