Faith-Based Bill Introduced in House

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - A bipartisan bill modeled on President Bush's faith-based funding initiative was introduced in the House of Representatives Wednesday.

Among other things, the bill would expand charitable choice, allowing religious groups to compete for government money to perform various social services.

The charitable choice provision is controversial, even among some conservatives, who fear it will allow the government to intrude on religious mandates. A Senate bill omits the charitable-choice provision altogether.

The House bill, sponsored by Reps. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and Tony Hall (D-Ohio), also would allow taxpayers claiming the standard deduction to claim an extra deduction for charitable contributions; it would allow people to donate money from their individual retirement accounts to charity without paying taxes on withdrawals; and it would allow restaurants to claim a deduction for food donations.

It also sets up something called individual development accounts, in which banks, credit unions or community groups would earn tax credits for matching up to $500 of a poor person's savings.

"Charity is a virtue that transcends party lines," said House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday.

Hall said the bill is important for what it does not do: "It does not erode the key principle of separation of church and state or make funds available for proselytizing or other inappropriate projects. Those rules are pretty strict. And I am confident they will protect taxpayers from funding religious activities in the United States."

Hall said, "The reason this bill is needed can be found in soup kitchens, drug treatment centers, homeless shelters, and mean streets all over the country. In every congressional district and every town, people are hurting. Today, through this initiative, I hope we can widen the corps of people who share my convictions that we must do more."