Head of US religious initiative office resigns

 The head of the White House's religious initiative office, John J. DiIulio Jr, resigned on Friday, raising concerns about the future of President Bush's social policy. Mr. DiIulio, 42, a Catholic, and the only Democrat in the Senate, said he was simply keeping his pledge to leave after six months in office. But his departure comes as the White House faces an uphill battle to persuade the Democratic-controlled Senate to pass legislation increasing federal funding for the charitable work of religious groups. Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, said: "The president will miss John DiIulio - we all will. John has done a wonderful job at launching the faith- based initiative." DiIulio, a 42-year-old professor of government policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said he had decided to resign because of the pressures the job had put on his health and family life. He added that he had accomplished his principal goal of promoting the bill, passed last month, which gives religious groups the same opportunities as secular organizations to receive federal money for social service projects. He also completed a survey showing that federal agencies have a marked bias against religious groups applying for grants. In his academic work DiIulio specialised in studying the involvement of church groups in community services. During the presidential campaign both Bush and Gore came to him for advice. DiIulio was appointed to head the new White House office during the second week of the Bush administration and won a reputation for his support of 'compassionate conservatism'. However he faced many difficulties: He lost the support of several conservative Christian groups when he warned that overtly evangelical social service programs would probably be ineligible for direct government grants. Last month a storm of controversy broke out when it emerged that the Salvation Army had sought private assurances from the White House that if they accepted federal grants, they would be exempt from state and local civil rights laws protecting homosexuals. DiIulio saw President Bush's tax cut program as a major setback to social welfare in the US. The measure failed to include a new deduction for charitable contributions that would have contributed an extra $14.6 billion in gifts to religious groups caring for the poor. With little new money for the bill, many critics questioned whether Mr. Bush was using the "compassionate conservatism" slogan to camouflage a refusal to increase money for social programs.

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