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A coalition of 68 churches, synagogues and non-profit groups is refusing to hire welfare recipients under a city program that requires recipients to work to get benefits, the New York Times reported today.

The coalition denounces workfare as morally unjust and hopes to use its members' stature to press the city to treat its 38,000 workfare participants with greater dignity and pay them more than they now receive, the Times said.

"This program fails miserably to meet the criteria of justice and fairness," said the Rev. Peter Laarman, pastor of Judson Memorial Church. "We don't want to say five years from now, here was an evil system that grew around us and we didn't resist it."

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani defended the program Wednesday as fair and effective in moving people from welfare to work, saying the city cut its welfare rolls by 285,000 in part because of workfare.

About 2,500 workfare participants now work for non-profit organizations, while the rest work directly for the city, cleaning streets and parks and doing other jobs.

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