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Old North Church Grant Blurs Separation Between Church and State
By YVONNE ABRAHAM
The Boston Globe, May 28, 2003
"As grants go, it is not a huge amount of money: just $317,000 to help restore the windows at the Old North Church, the North End landmark where patriots showed two lanterns from the steeple to give Paul Revere the signal that the British were coming, by sea, in 1775."
"But the funds for the church mark a significant reversal of federal policy, undoing a rule that had excluded religious institutions from preservation funds. Yesterday, as Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton announced the grant, friends of the church celebrated the windfall while critics accused the Bush administration of blurring the line between church and state."
"Critics charged President Bush with attempting another end run around the Senate, which so far has stymied his attempts to involve religious organizations in federal social service programs. The House approved the measure."
" 'This administration literally wants tax dollars to go not just for religious programs, but also to turn part of the Treasury into a church building fund,' said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 'Churches, historic or otherwise, have an obligation to fix their own buildings. It is not up to the taxpayers of the country to rebuild their windows.' "
"Lynn's Washington-based group has been a staunch opponent of Bush's faith-based initiative, which calls for allowing churches and religious groups to receive federal money to provide some of the social services currently provided by the government. Civil rights advocates say the program amounts to federally funded proselytizing and supports discrimination, because religious groups can refuse to hire people of other faiths."
"Stymied by inaction on Capitol Hill since he first unveiled the initiative in Jan. 2001, Bush last Dec. ordered federal agencies to allow religious charities to compete for government contracts. Earlier this month, the administration announced a plan to provide religious groups with federal housing aid, even if they hire or fire based on religious affiliation. Lynn said yesterday his group is exploring a legal challenge to the change that allowed the Old North Church to receive the federal grant."