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IT'S RISKY TO GIVE FUNDS TO FAITH-BASED GROUPS

Americans are clever people, and ours is a resilient republic. There are ways we can use the idealism and energy of people of religious faith to help those citizens who live on what are euphemistically called the "margins" of our extraordinarily prosperous society.

But the initiatives that President Bush is proposing to give federal funds to faith-based programs can work only if they do not promote one religion over another. And only if they do not promote religious belief over the denial of religion. The founders of the United States gave us a precious gift by resisting efforts to establish a state-sanctioned religion, and we would be foolish to squander it.

We must ensure that people who seek to deny or even influence the religious beliefs of others are not allowed to run any program using federal funds to help impoverished children, drug addicts, convicts and others.

Ours is a nation of believers in various faiths, atheists and agnostics. Any program that does not respect that multiplicity threatens our constitutionally protected rights to freedom for our beliefs and freedom from the beliefs of others.

PETER WILLIAM WARN

Buffalo

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