House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma and Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, are pressing ahead with legislation to allow religious groups to compete for government money from a half-dozen major domestic programs, the Associated Press reported. Watts and Hall plan to introduce legislation by late March translating much of President Bush's plan into law. That would include a major expansion of "charitable choice," which allows churches and other religious groups to qualify for grants without divorcing their programs from religion. The charitable-choice provision got little attention when it was first adopted as part of the welfare overhaul in 1996 or when it was expanded to drug treatment and community development grants. But since Bush launched his push to expand it across government, it has come under attack from liberals who worry about civil liberties and from conservatives who worry about government intrusion. Bush said Monday he was "absolutely not" backing off his plan.
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