Originally created 04/09/03

Senate OKs aid to religious charities



ATLANTA - The Georgia Senate approved an amendment to the state constitution Tuesday that would allow religious organizations to receive state funding for charitable activities.

The resolution, which passed 42-9, specifies the types of services state tax money could pay for, including public health, historic preservation or social services to the poor.

Faith-based charities and their legislative allies have been pushing the amendment for several years but have been stymied by Democratic leaders.

Supporters said they felt the Republican takeover of the Senate this year would improve the measure's chances.

The proposal was motivated by decisions by the state attorney general's office to deny state funds to nonprofit charities formed by churches, said Sen. Seth Harp, R-Midland, the resolution's sponsor.

"I don't understand why the attorney general has taken it upon himself to attack that process," Mr. Harp said.

Senators approved an amendment that would require religious organizations seeking state funding to set up "separate charitable affiliates" to receive the money.

Sen. David Adelman, D-Decatur, one of the amendment's sponsors, said the provision helps address his concern that the amendment would violate the constitutional separation of religion and government.

"State money should not go directly to religious organizations," he said.

The amendment also would prohibit charitable affiliates from practicing unlawful discrimination, either in hiring or service delivery.

The original version of the amendment would prohibit faith-based charities from using state money to engage in worship, religious instruction or proselytizing.

The measure now goes to the House.

If it wins final approval in the Legislature, its fate would be decided in a voter referendum in November 2004.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 681-1701 or davemns@mindspring.com.